The collective thud heard ‘round the East Valley was the arrival of Week 8.
Nothing really happened. Yes, there were some tense games, shootouts, underclassmen (and a couple seniors) putting up crazy stats, playoff positioning and a few pops of proverbial playoff balloons.
It was, by and large, a big lull. Was it the computer’s fault for scheduling? Was it the freedom games’ fault? Was it a combination? Was it a series of coincidences?
Who knows, but at this point, the less said about Week 8, the better.
The good news in this is a weak Week 8 makes Week 9 and 10 look stronger by comparison, as well it should. The playoffs literally begin this coming week for Scottsdale Prep, Mesa Prep and Gilbert Christian in Division VI, and they basically begin now for the likes of Highland, Chaparral, Notre Dame and San Tan Foothills.
Those not on a bubble still better beware of what lies ahead. Queen Creek (Division III) has been the most dominant East Valley school this year — regardless of division — and for good reason. The Bulldogs’ offense has been as good and balanced as the defense, and the ‘D’ has five shutouts this season.
Nobody other than Div. II-Perry has given the Bulldogs a game this year, but they have to welcome Campo Verde next week, followed by the regular season finale against Williams Field. The Black Hawks are about to get a tutorial themselves against a solid Poston Butte team and then Queen Creek.
Highland just lost to Mountain View and the Hawks are wounded. Even if they beat Mesa next week, what happens against Red Mountain in Week 10? Will the red-hot Toros further muddle the picture if Mountain Pointe pushes them around in Week 9? What if Basha beats Hamilton this coming Friday? What if the Bears play the Huskies close? Will Pinnacle vs. Desert Mountain offer any more clues as to whether they can play with the so-called “elite” in what’s been a lot of foggy Fridays in Division I?
We prefer to call Week 8 something of an anomaly, perhaps even a final warning, because the cram sessions for football finals begins now. The next two weeks are going to really decide who belongs in November and who doesn’t, and for most schools there will no longer be any disputing as to “why.”
Week 8 was a (predictable) clunker, but along with the Division VI playoffs beginning at the higher-seeded school, Week 9 should help the cause toward playoff posturing to go with some interesting matchups.
Basha at Hamilton is the last of the big Chandler-school clashes (at least until some combination of these schools meet in the playoffs). When turnover-free, we all know the Bears’ offense can be as good as anyone in the state. We also know how good the Huskies defense is. So the other obvious question is whether Basha’s defense can stop Hamilton’s running game, which the Huskies love to turn into play-action passes.
Mountain View passed another test in beating Highland on Friday night, but the Toros will see things taken up a notch or two as they play at Mountain Pointe, a team with size and speed more along the lines of a Desert Ridge (that didn’t go well early in the season for the Toros).
Desert Mountain and Pinnacle highlights the NE Valley, a matchup of one-loss teams. Nearby, Chaparral has quietly won three games in a row as it climbs back into the playoff picture. It faces a Horizon vying for at least one home playoff game.
Interesting stuff further south as Tempe’s prolific meets faces Seton Catholic’s prolific offense. Which team’s defense can stop the other more than once?
Campo Verde will be the latest to end Queen Creek’s dominant regular season to date. The annual Scottsdale Christian vs. Valley Christian rivalry resumes and Poston Butte will try and contain Williams Field.
Having nothing (more) to lose: Who said being a spoiler isn’t fun? Or doesn’t mean something? It’s not been fun times at Gilbert or even Corona del Sol this season, but the Tigers (1-6 entering Friday night) punctured Skyline’s playoff hopes and the Aztecs nearly pulled off the upset of the year before falling late to Chandler. Having kids continue to execute and give everything they’ve got should be a given (it’s why they took up the sport) but it never is with teenagers, and in mostly-lost seasons for Leland Rodgers (Gilbert) and Tom Joseph (Corona del Sol), the kids who are still with them, are “with them.”
NE Valley defenses: Horizon’s defense recorded two safeties and a 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Luke Quinn. Teammate Ryan Neel returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score. Pinnacle’s defense got two interceptions from Michael Harlan and held the Jags to negative rushing yards, and Evan Tompkins blocked and returned a kick for a TD. Desert Mountain forced three turnovers in beating Surprise Willow Canyon and Scottsdale Christian’s ‘D’ played well in a nice win over Phoenix Christian.
Chandler defense: Corona del Sol hadn’t scored more than 13 points in a game until the end of last week’s blowout loss to Mountain Pointe. Before the Wolves pulled away midway through the third quarter on Friday, they made the Aztecs — with their 32 kids in uniform most weeks — look like the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. The Wolves know this, of course, and have time to make corrections. But defense has also been a big problem in the Wolves’ postseason downfalls.
Postseason push: Skyline had a chance to further hang in the playoff picture against a Gilbert squad that’s significantly down from past years, but the Coyotes couldn’t do it. Highland (Division I) and Paradise Valley (Div. III) are back on the bubble after losing to Mountain View and Sunrise Mountain, respectively. Higley (Division III) still had a chance before getting smashed by Seton Catholic. Same with Poston Butte getting hammered by Queen Creek. If those who hesitate are lost, these schools had their chance to cement themselves, but now the margin of error is either razor-thin, gone or too late.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.