With Hamilton, Brophy and Peoria Centennial still alive in the postseason, there are plenty of powerhouse programs aiming for yet another state title.
But the Division I, II and III defending champions — Desert Vista, Chaparral and Saguaro — went down in the quarterfinals on Friday night, and five East Valley programs hope it’s time for some completely new blood to take over.
Among the seven remaining East Valley schools left in the top three divisions, only Hamilton and Brophy have state championships on their resume. Queen Creek, Marcos de Niza, Desert Ridge and Williams Field have all made it to a championship game in its respective history, but each fell short, while Mountain Pointe has never been there.
Here’s a look at those five teams, and their chances at winning that elusive state championship:
Low chance: No. 5 Williams Field (Div. III); No. 2 Desert Ridge (Div. I).
The Black Hawks have consistently been a top program since their inception, with four playoff berths in four years of varsity competition and now a second trip to the semifinals. If things continue on this path, it seems like Williams Field will grab a title sooner than later. However, the Black Hawks have a tough semifinal matchup against top-seeded Desert Edge, which just knocked off two-time defending champion Saguaro. The Scorpions are likely too athletic for Williams Field to handle.
Desert Ridge’s only loss this year came to Hamilton, and the Jaguars are in the semifinals for the third straight season. The problem? They seem destined to be knocked out by the Huskies once again. Desert Ridge has quietly one of the top defenses in Div. I this season, and the Jaguars looked like they might have a title shot as the regular season came to a close, but a season-ending knee injury to running back J.J. Husar and am apparent knee injury to quarterback Tarek Morrison on Friday night will make it very tough for the Jaguars offense to score on Hamilton, even if Morrison is able to play.
Medium chance: No. 2 Marcos de Niza (Div. II); No. 1 Mountain Pointe (Div. I)
The Padres looked very impressive in a quarterfinal win against Chaparral when running back Mauriece Lee ran for 320 yards and the secondary picked off five passes. With Lee, quarterback Josh Eckley and wide receiver Paul Elvira, Marcos de Niza has a devastating offensive trio to complement a solid defense. The Padres will face off with Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the semifinals next week, the team that handed Marcos its only regular season loss. A win is definitely possible, but if Marcos de Niza does make the Division II title game, it will probably be the underdog to whichever team wins the high-powered Salpointe Catholic-Centennial matchup on the other side of the bracket.
Mountain Pointe is the top seed in Division I but will be severely tested the next two weeks. The Pride hopes to avenge their only regular season loss in next Friday’s semifinals against Brophy, and with injuries to Broncos playmakers Marche Dennard and Devon Allen, there seems to be a solid chance of that happening. If Mountain Pointe can win that one, a rematch of the regular season opener against Hamilton likely awaits. The Pride shocked Hamilton, 17-14, in that game and would love to do it again for all the marbles.
High chance: No. 2 Queen Creek (Div. III)
The Bulldogs survived a test against a tough Thunderbird team in the quarterfinals, and now gets an interesting semifinal matchup. No. 14 seed Nogales shocked Sabino in the first round and then defeated Sunrise Mountain to make it here, and is hoping for the Cinderella run to continue. However, Queen Creek should be a heavy favorite as it continues its hope for an undefeated season. If things shake out as predicted here, the title game could be an intriguing showdown against Desert Edge. These two teams aren’t very familiar with each other because they sit on opposite sides of Phoenix, but the talent both display could result in a heavyweight clash. Queen Creek made the state championship game in 1998, and, among these five EV programs, seems to have the best shot of winning it all in 2012.
Running backs: It’s a pretty easy formula for teams with star rushers: give them the ball. Marcos de Niza’s Mauriece Lee ran for 320 yards and four scores in the Padres’ win over Chaparral. Matt Guida had 241 yards rushing to rally Queen Creek past Thunderbird. Williams Field’s Sean Schweichler had 194 rushing yards and returned a punt 68 yards for a score to kickstart an upset of Liberty. Garette Craig and Thomas Warren each rushed for more than 135 yards in Mountain Pointe’s easy win over Desert Mountain. Throw the ball all you want with exotic schemes and formations, but pounding the pigskin still matters.
Williams Field and Marcos de Niza: Most of the East Valley teams that won on Friday night were the favorites. However, the Padres and Black Hawks were thought of as underdogs, but didn’t play like it. Both raced out to big leads and controlled their quarterfinal matchups until the end to advance to the state semifinals.
The absence of the QB sneak: Shotgun formations are en vogue right now, and it’s hard to argue with the results as offenses seem to be as high-flying as ever. However, it seems like this change has almost completely done away with the quarterback sneak. Brophy had a 4th-and-1 near midfield on Friday with a one-point late in its game against Red Mountain. The Broncos tried a handoff in the backfield for the first down but failed. The turnover on downs didn’t affect the outcome, but wouldn’t a sneak have done the trick? Chaparral had a 4th-and-1 near midfield with about a minute left before halftime against Marcos de Niza. Instead of trying a sneak, the Firebirds punted. Marcos de Niza subsequently went 88 yards for a touchdown for a back-breaking 35-10 lead.