Incredibly, this football regular season is halfway done. Here is a look at the notable teams, players and moments from the first five weeks of 2012:
Best player: Mason Thorman, Red Mountain quarterback
If a preseason watch list was compiled for first-half MVP in the East Valley this year, Mason Thorman may not have been in the top 20. However, he stormed out of the gate with 452 passing yards and five touchdowns against Avondale Westview in the season opener and hasn’t slowed down since. Thorman is 97-of-135 for 1,477 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions on the year, and his .719 completion percentage is fourth-best in the state. The Mountain Lions are 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in Division I halfway through the year, and Thorman is a huge reason for it.
Honorable mention: Queen Creek running back Matt Guida, Paradise Valley quarterback Ryan Finley, Desert Mountain wide receiver Mark Andrews.
Best team: Mountain Pointe
The Pride had talent last season, but never quite put it all together, finishing 6-5 and losing to Brophy in the first round of the playoffs. This year has been a different story. Mountain Pointe’s chemistry has caught up to its ability, and the team has navigated a brutal schedule without a loss. The Pride has a three-point win over Hamilton, a two-point win over defending champion Desert Vista and a one-point win over Chandler on its resume. Mountain Pointe has ascended to No. 1 in the rankings with its 5-0 start and has the cast to make a run at the state championship.
Honorable mention: Red Mountain, Queen Creek.
Best player you’d never heard of: Red Mountain wide receiver Drake Pierre
Heading into the year, it would have been a surprise if Drake Pierre surpassed teammate Aeron Carr as Red Mountain’s leading receiver. It’s downright shocking to see him atop the state leaderboard. It’s been a meteoric rise for the Mountain Lions senior, who has 32 catches for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Pierre has 43 more receiving yards than Sunrise Mountain’s Eloy Masters and is tied for third in the state in receiving TDs, according to Maxpreps.com. Between Carr and Pierre, Red Mountain has the most dangerous receiving duo in the state, and it’s a big reason why the Lions have vaulted into state title contention.
Honorable mention: Pinnacle running back Josh Hoekstra, Desert Ridge quarterback Tarek Morrison, Marcos de Niza quarterback Josh Eckley, Mountain View wide receiver Clark Brown.
Biggest surprise: Tempe
The Buffaloes went 1-9 last year, 0-10 in 2010 and 3-7 in 2009. With a talented but young quarterback in sophomore Emanuel Gant, it seemed like Tempe would still be at least a year away from moving back to respectabiltiy. However, the Buffaloes opened some eyes with a 32-27 win over McClintock to begin the season and have continued to play well through September. Gant is 81-of-111 passing for 1,186 yards with 11 touchdowns, as Sebastian Watkins (333 receiving yards, 4 TD) and Massiah Smith (553 yards, 5 TD) have proven to be capable wideouts. Tempe is 4-1 on the season and seems destined to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Honorable mention: Highland, Red Mountain, Desert Mountain.
Best game: Red Mountain 33, Brophy 31
The game that made Red Mountain a legitimate state title contender to outsiders, the Lions trailed most of the night. Ahead 31-26 with three minutes left, Brophy was successfully draining the clock when Red Mountain’s Diego Hernandez stripped running back Marche Dennard, picked up the idle ball and rumbled 20 yards (Hernandez had an interception earlier in the game). The Lions converted on fourth-and-4 and fourth-and-6 in the game’s final drive on completions from Mason Thorman to Drake Pierre, the latter of which Pierre dodged two Brophy defenders for a 6-yard touchdown with 21.5 seconds left.
Honorable mention: Mountain Pointe 28, Chandler 27 (OT); Marcos de Niza 29, Chaparral 27; Paradise Valley 32, Saguaro 29; Desert Mountain 28, Chaparral 21.
Biggest upset: Paradise Valley 32, Saguaro 29
This, too, could have won for best game. Yes, Saguaro was without a couple key starters to injuries, and, yes, it was Week 1. But Paradise Valley’s vaunted passing game with standout QB Ryan Finley (Boise State commit) still wasn’t supposed to be able to match Saguaro’s offense. Instead, the Trojans stormed out to a 22-8 lead in the third quarter, only to have Saguaro stage a furious fourth-quarter comeback to take a 29-25 lead with 1:04 remaining. The senior completed two passes and Saguaro’s defense committed holding and pass interference penalties which moved the Trojans to the Saguaro 18. Saguaro’s defense forced three straight incompletions but Finley (351 yards) delivered to the corner of the end zone to Joey Gatewood for his fourth TD pass of the night with one second left.
Honorable mention: Maricopa 21, Campo Verde 20; Tempe Prep 24, Seton Catholic 21.
Biggest controversy: Tempe-Saguaro
Where to begin here. Tempe’s 2-0 start was talk of the town when it met Division III defending champion Saguaro. The Sabercats dominated the game physically, while Tempe players suffered significant injuries. Four Tempe players were hurt, two taken away in ambulances. It caused outrage on Tempe’s sideline and led officials to send both teams to the locker room early for halftime with Saguaro leading 31-0. Tempe, however, never returned. The Buffaloes got on their buses and left the stadium, resulting in a forfeit. Outrage ensued, partially fueled by a letter Tempe principal Mark Yslas sent out to his school’s families the next morning which supporting his coaches and athletic director, and reinforced the notion Saguaro was trying to injure Tempe’s players. The AIA eventually met with both schools, watched the game film, and deemed there was one appropriate ejection of a Saguaro player for unsportsmanlike conduct, but no intent by Saguaro to injure Tempe players. A decision is expected in late October regarding any punishment against Tempe for leaving at halftime.
Honorable mention: Arizona football coaches vs. AIA/MaxPreps; New Power Ranking formula transparency.