No stone goes unturned in high school football playoffs, a combination of a week’s worth of preparation, pressure to win and, consequently, borderline-neuroticism on the part of coaches. But what happens when schools meet a second time around?
Sinatra crooned that “love is lovelier the second time around” and “love’s more comfortable the second time you fall,” but the prospect of playing a top-notch team again — as is the case throughout Friday’s Div. I and Div. II quarterfinals — can cause the wrong kind of butterflies in the stomach.
Hamilton and Desert Vista will play for a fourth time in 13 months, while Red Mountain-vs.-Brophy and Chaparral-vs.-Marcos de Niza will unfold for a third time in the past 14 months.
What’s left? Not much beyond just lining up and out-hitting, out-executing and out-disciplin-ing (if that’s a word) the other guys.
“I think it does depend on how the game went and whether you won or lost,” said Brophy coach Scooter Molander, 33-31 losers to Red Mountain in the first matchup in early September. “If you blew them out, then you’re going to run the same stuff, but if you lost badly you’ll change things.”
Neither was the case when those two teams met in Week 3, as the game went down to the wire. In Brophy’s fourth game in 17 days, the Broncos committed four turnovers (three interceptions by Tyler Bruggman and a lost fumble) and had 11 penalties for more than 100 yards. Conversely, Red Mountain’s passing game was in high gear (255 yards and two touchdown passes by Mason Thorman plus he ran for two scores and a trick play led to another score) and Brophy’s defense has similarly struggled the past couple weeks.
Line-up-and run will be the theme at Hamilton on Friday when the Huskies and Thunder meet yet again, and again with the season on the line.
Both sides are a bit wary this week that something is going to give, whether an aforementioned trick play or something of the unexpected.
Given the history and style of play both teams have thrived on this year (running the ball a variety of ways and playing defense), the suspecion could be warranted. It might otherwise be a scoreless night.
“It goes both ways I think,” Hinds said. “You are looking at like, ‘Well we know what they like to do but are they going to do that or are they come up with another plan? We pulled some fast ones on them in the state (title) game and they came out this last game (a 23-13 Hamilton win) and had some things we hadn’t seen before. There is going to be a lot of feeling each other out.”
Chaparral has played nothing like its former days this season when the Firebirds had an entirely new starting lineup on both sides of the ball (Jake Roh began the season as the only returning starter on offense) and the Firebirds couldn’t decide on a starting quarterback.
Still, a Marcos de Niza loaded with athletes prevailed in the final seconds when quarterback Josh Eckley scampered into the end zone from 11 yards out on the final play of the night in the Padres’ 29-27 victory in Week 2.
Marcos knows it won’t see the same Chaparral team — the Firebirds have won seven consecutive games — and Chaparral knows why Marcos is a championship contender in Div. II.
Early September’s status quo might not work for either side.
“You have to change things up,” Chaparral coach Dave Huffine said. “You can’t do the same things because their athletes are too good.”
Every school has good athletes these days. It’s one of the bigger parts of the “weeding out” process between the first round of the playoffs and whatever happens moving forward.
But good vs. good only leads to a stalemate.
“In playoff games it’s not the crazy play in the dirt that wins a game,” Molander said. “It’s the team that plays smarter, with fewer mistakes and plays together that wins.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.