Survive and advance is a popular mantra adopted this time of year — and for good reason.
But for most East Valley teams, Friday’s opening round simply was about advancing. There was little sweating out survival.
Of the 24 first-round playoff games in the largest three divisions, just four were decided by one score. The other 20, of which 12 victors hail from the East Valley, featured a 30-point average margin of victory.
Such lopsided affairs, of course, figure to be left behind as the postseason moves into the quarterfinals, where a bevy of intriguing matchups await.
Much of the Division I interest is in that three of the four matchups are rematches from earlier this season: Brophy at Desert Ridge, Pinnacle at Hamilton and Basha at Chandler.
Red Mountain visits top-seeded Mountain Pointe in the other quarterfinal game.
What will happen in those rematches? Will the winner the first time around repeat the feat? Or will the tables be turned?
Desert Ridge, Hamilton and Chandler was each victorious in the first meeting. Reasonable thinking says those outcomes hold true again, as only Hamilton’s 24-20 win on Sept. 12 was a close game.
But you just never know.
“It’s a rare opportunity to get a rematch and they’re a good football team,” Basha quarterback Zach Werlinger said Friday night, moments after leading the Bears on a game-winning drive in the final minute. “We didn’t play very well last time so we’re just going to play hard and see where it goes from there.”
Three of the four matchups in Division II are rematches, including Marcos de Niza at Chaparral and Campo Verde at Mesquite.
Marcos and Mesquite won the first time around, with the Padres prevailing, 56-45, in Week 2 and the Wildcats shut out the Coyotes, 30-0, two weeks ago.
Such a large margin is a lot for Campo Verde to make up in such a short time, whereas Chaparral has fared better than Marcos since that defeat, and this time gets the Padres at home.
In Division III, none of the quarterfinal matchups involving East Valley teams is of the second-time-around variety (Shadow Ridge at Goodyear Desert Edge is also a rematch), which adds another layer of intrigue.
Top-seeded Williams Field hosts Tucson Canyon Del Oro, second-seeded Saguaro hosts Tucson Sabino and defending-champion Queen Creek hosts Peoria in a matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds.
The potential exists for an all-East Valley semifinal in each of the three of the largest divisions.
Before we turn all of our attention to the quarterfinals, let’s look back at some of the gaudy numbers Basha and Horizon combined to put up in the No. 10 Bears’ 43-42 win at the No. 7 Huskies on Friday.
1,243: Combined yards for the two teams; Basha amassed 686 and Horizon had 557.
453: Passing yards by Basha’s Zach Werlinger, who set new school records for career passing yards (6,036) and career passing touchdowns (57) in the game.
274: All-purpose yards for Basha’s Rajhan Meriwether; the senior rushed for 152 yards and had 122 receiving.
247: Yards from scrimmage by Horizon’s Luke Quinn; the senior rushed for 187 yards and added 60 receiving.
6: Combined turnovers, three for each team.
5: Combined punts, three for Horizon (all in the second half) and two for Basha.
• Crazy plays: Something about the playoffs must have brought out the crazy in people, and we’re talking the fun kind of crazy: Safeties galore (four in the Hamilton-Millennium matchup, including a 2-2 score at one point. When has that ever happened?), seemingly everyone was going for it on fourth down, onside kicks were a norm, fake punts, game-winning field goals. The tenseness and jitters of playoff football eventually gave way to coaches and players letting their proverbial hair down. Along with the looming threat of elimination, it’s what makes November the month to remember.
• Record breakers: Three of the best in the East Valley’s football factories made their mark (again) on Friday night. Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer threw six touchdowns against Washington to bring his career total to 113 and set a new state record, breaking the old mark of 112 by Show Low’s Rathen Ricedorff (2008-10). Werlinger's monster night against Horizon in the Bears' wacky win made him the school's all-time leading passer in yards and touchdowns. Mountain Pointe receiver Jalen Brown caught four passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns, the first of which set a school record for most career touchdowns with 48. Hamilton defensive end Qualen Cunningham teed off on Goodyear Millennium with four sacks; it set a new Hamilton single-season standard with 17 sacks. It’s never about the individual, and these four would be first in line to trade all the plays and statistics for a ring.
• Crushing disappointments: Among ways to lose playoffs, Horizon, Desert Mountain and Higley should feel extra crushed. The Huskies did nearly everything right offensively against Basha, and while that game was destined to be a shootout, it’s not often a team blocks an extra-point attempt, catches a break on another missed field and scores 42 points but still loses on a last-second FG. Desert Mountain never had a chance without injured QB Kyle Allen, whose brilliant career was closed by a walking boot. Higley had one more chance, but jumped offsides on fourth-and-1 to allow CDO to retain possession and run out the clock in a 34-31 loss for the Knights. Something much worse than the proverbial sucker punches was at play.
• Highland: The reality is the Hawks had a terrific season, turning things around offensively after a 1-2 start and riding a group of 30 seniors back to the playoffs. Friday night was a golden chance to win a playoff game for the first time since 2008. Instead, the Hawks never showed up offensively or defensively (the latter of which is the most surprising). Give credit to Red Mountain, which is playing as well in the final couple weeks of the season as it has all year. But this was supposed to be an honest-to-goodness No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup.
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