This is the agony and beauty of high school football.
Despite a massive amount of roster turnover from 2010, Basha had a couple significant pieces in place heading into the 2011 season.
A few thoughts here and there from Bears coach Bernie Busken about his team's speed and potential, combined with Busken's coaching acumen and his kids second go-round with his style, and the Bears were headed toward the state championship game.
Basha started 3-0 and there was giddiness in Bears' country, fueled moreso because it lines up geographically against Huskies and Wolves' territory.
They ran all over Chandler offensively on TV in Week 4, and the Bears were going to be the team that ended Hamilton's winning streak.
Basha beat Highland and Gilbert, and the belief remained stronger than ever.
Then the Bears were demolished by Desert Ridge, and it was a one-game anomaly against a really good team.
Then they were manhandled again defensively by Division II Perry, and the sky was falling. Basha no longer had a chance to do anything in the postseason and the Bears were exposed. Good luck winning a playoff game against the elite.
Then came Hamilton, and all the good vibrations from three weeks prior were gone. The Bears lost big to the Huskies and were being flushed into the season's sewer.
Wins against Phoenix Maryvale and Tucson High were nice, but hardly a case to be made the team resurrected itself.
Then came Friday night, a 32-29 victory at No. 2 Brophy in the Division I quarterfinals, the trendy team to meet Hamilton in the state title game. The Bears were faster, more physical and more disciplined in the second half. There was enough defense to give their offense a chance to come back from what was a 21-12 halftime deficit.
As good as Desert Vista is, and as much as paper matchups matter (not much this time of year), the Bears should like their chances against the Thunder more than facing Desert Ridge or Hamilton again.
Now the Bears are a win against No. 3 Desert Vista away from the championship game.
Raise you hand if you figured this would happen after the Chandler game in Week 4?
OK. How about after the Hamilton game in Week 9?
The lesson: Ride the waves with some serenity and don't ask where they go because, in a given week, nobody knows.
A whole slew of goodness awaits. Besides Basha-Desert Vista feelers of being a tremendous matchup (Why in the world is that game played at Mesquite? A bigger and better venue doesn't exist out here?), we think Hamilton-Desert Ridge will be a better game than many are giving it credit for. Hamilton dominated the first meeting in mid-September, but the Jaguars are better than that, and a little balance in the passing game circa 2010 championship game would make this awfully interesting.
It wouldn't be a Division II playoff chase without Chaparral and Peoria Centennial, the two powers of recent years in 5A Division II, a rematch of last year's state championship game won by the Firebirds. One or both of these schools have been in the championship game every year since the old conference splits in 2005. These schools have combined to win the previous five state championships.
Many believe Tucson Sabino could be the best-equipped team to deal with D.J. Foster, Luke Rubenzer and Saguaro's offense. I'm not buying it, though the Sabercats defense has proven quite vulnerable as well. We'll find out Saturday night at Salpointe High School.
Meanwhile, Arcadia is going to have a difficult time with Glendale Cactus in Division III semifinal, but the Titans haven't been here before in the Jim Ellison era, and most people thought the Titans wouldn't get through Peoria and Peoria Liberty the past two weeks (including yours truly).
Wrong and wrong.
• Defense: Wouldn't you know, it still matters. Wild stats and scoring sprees are fun and entertaining, but defense still earns you the big trophy, especially at the big-school level. Pretty much everyone knows Hamilton's defense is the standard, but Desert Ridge got a couple stops late against Red Mountain, Desert Vista punished Pinnacle and Chaparral completely cramped Perry's style (which averaged 58 points per game the last two months). Saguaro's offensive showcase might be an exception to this in Div. III, but even the Sabercats' oft-struggling "D" held Queen Creek, and they'll have to stop Tucson Sabino a few more times next week.
• Arcadia: What a turnaround. Down 17-0 early in the second quarter at Peoria thanks to its own mistakes, Jim Ellison's team roared back. The human bowling ball known as Sosaia Maafu has run wild on Division II, especially the Peoria schools in these playoffs (more than 500 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the last two weeks). A belief and a couple tweaks up front, and the Titans' 35-34 victory earned them the school's first trip to the state semifinals under Ellison. With Maafu and quarterback Cole Richardson it's not some secret what Arcadia wants to do, and the Titans are doing it.
• Chandler offense: Wolves coach Shaun Aguano is right: Somebody is going to beat Hamilton, and the Wolves had as good of a chance as anyone in the state, but we keep saying that and the Wolves keep doing themselves in with poor play in the trenches (66 total yards rushing, six sacks allowed) and no discipline (11 penalties for 83 yards). It was the first time Chandler has been shut out since - gasp! - Hamilton won 14-0 in the 2008 playoff quarterfinal game.
• Brophy: Maybe it was a slightly softer schedule than the more E.V. schools that did in the Broncos. That can't be said with any certainty in correlation to their 32-29 loss to Basha. But well beyond whether a second belonged on the clock on the final play of the game or not, the Broncos did themselves no favors with turnovers and getting pushed around defensively. The trendy pick was a Brophy-Hamilton championship game, but that will have to wait until at least next year, when Brophy could be even more talented and learned the lessons of suffering through playoff defeat.