Could the shoe finally be on the other foot?
Desert Ridge’s meteoric rise to prominence in the past three years came with Hamilton being the proverbial asterisk, as the Huskies have been to practically every other big-school in the state. But while few might be surprised if Hamilton makes another state championship run this season, the Jaguars also know (along with the Huskies themselves) that this could be another championship-contender’s best chance to take another step forward.
That may or may not happen on Friday night when these two teams meet again at Hamilton H.S., this time with significantly different personnel and back stories.
Desert Ridge has rolled through its first three games of the season with a stout running game behind quarterback Tarek Morrison and JJ Husar (Tarek’s brother, Taren could also factor into the backfield mix) and arguably the Jaguars’ best defensive unit in Jeremy Hathcock’s tenure.
“For the first time I feel if they make mistakes we win, if we make mistakes they win, if we both play evenly, it’s a tossup,” Hathcock said.
Hamilton is an unprecedented 1-2 which has struggled with turnovers, qualified by a couple moves to help the offense (Cole Luke playing offense and defense) and a difficult schedule, which means Friday’s competition won’t be a leap the way it will be for Desert Ridge.
But a 1-3 start with Chandler, Basha, Desert Vista and others still to play, even the Huskies admit there’s some concern about the need to win games like this for playoff purposes.
Could the “must-win” apply in mid-September?
“It’s pretty close to one,” Huskies coach Steve Belles said. “1-3 and 2-2 is a (heck) of a lot different. I’ve been there but it’s not a good place to be.”
“The great part is it’s part of the journey. Will our players rise to the occasion? I think they can, but will they? They have to go out and do that on Friday night. One thing I’ve learned from D-Ridge in three years is they come out and bring their lunch. We’re fully aware of that and bring our lunch and try and stop their machine.”
Hamilton struggled offensively against Mountain Pointe in the opening-week loss. The Huskies outgained Notre Dame (Calif.) by more than 200 total yards in Ireland but committed four turnovers.
Because of the vacillating offensive displays Hamilton has shown this season (the Huskies rolled against Division II Notre Dame last week), Hathcock noted his Jaguar players put in five hours of film study this week, more than usual.
“One game isn’t going to make or break you,” Hathcock said. “...It used to be we weren’t good enough and now if we are good enough, it’ll pay off. That’s the hope.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.