When Peoria Centennial routed Chandler Hamilton early in the 2008 prep football season, the Coyotes staked their claim to the title of best team in Arizona.
Then Scottsdale Saguaro rolled through its 4A-I schedule unblemished and largely unchallenged, and Hamilton ran the table on the 5A-I field to capture the state title.
That got us wondering: Who really is the best team in Arizona?
That question will never be answered on the field — where it should be — but our prep staff took a crack at it anyway by casting ballots for the state’s top 10 teams. A first-place vote was worth 10 points, with second place earning nine and so on.
Without further ado, here is the state’s top 10 in our humble opinion with total voting points in parentheses.
1. Centennial (50 points): The Coyotes have been the class of 5A-II since its formation in 2005, but this year’s team may have been the program’s and state’s best. Centennial beat 5A-I champion Chandler Hamilton convincingly, 35-16, had a run of 20 consecutive quarters without allowing a point, ran its winning streak to 26 and captured its third straight state title. The Coyotes also featured the second-most potent offense in the state with a 40.8 scoring average which trailed only St. Johns (54.3). The Coyotes offense featured a 1,600-yard rusher (John Hughes), and 1,600-yard passer (Dain McFarland) and a 500-yard receiver (Justin Callahan). Hughes was the main weapon, leading the Valley with 38 touchdowns. Eleven of his scoring plays came in the postseason where Centennial outscored its opponents 144-34.
2. Hamilton (45): The Huskies opened the season with three games under the spotlight. They traveled to Florida and pasted Miami Booker T. Washington, a defending state champ, to bring a measure of pride to Arizona. The next week it was Phoenix Brophy, which knocked the Huskies out of the playoff chase a year earlier in the semifinals. Hamilton beat Brophy, 10-0, in a defensive struggle. That led to a road game at Centennial, the then two-time 5A-II state champs. A huge fourth quarter by Centennial flattened Hamilton, 35-16, but also served as a wake-up call.
Hamilton was challenged just three times in running off 11 straight wins after its 2-1 start. Neighboring Chandler High gave the Huskies two tough games, losing a 41-26 shootout on the final night of the regular season and a 14-0 shutout two weeks later in the playoffs. Brophy gave the Huskies all they wanted in the title game, but Hamilton’s early 17-0 lead held up under a late Broncos’ surge. The title was Hamilton’s fourth this decade.
3. Saguaro (40): The Sabercats have nothing else to prove at the 4A-I level. They have won 33 consecutive games, three straight titles and beat Scottsdale Chaparral 38-0 in this year’s finals. With college recruits everywhere you turn, it would be great to know how Saguaro would stack up against Chandler Hamilton and Peoria Centennial. No team efficiently moved the ball against the Sabercats all season. The only thing stopping them might be sheer numbers. With a enrollment befitting a 4A-II school, Saguaro’s players never get off the field, going both ways and often playing on special teams.
4. Brophy (35): It was tumultuous to say the least.
The 2007 state champion Broncos were 2-3, with a wobbly offense, a multitude of starters injured on defense and an offensive line in flux.
That’s when coach Scooter Molander decided to platoon QBs Beau Maggi and Sam Quinif, and make some changes up front.
With a stout defense leading the way, Brophy won nine consecutive games and was back in the championship game for the third time in four years.
Although they didn’t win a title, the Broncos still found this season worth remembering.
5. Mountain View (28): Coach Tom Joseph’s squad was not intimidating when it jogged onto the field, and for the better part of 12 games it managed to turn in mostly decisive victories. A veteran defense posted four shutouts and limited opponents to a 5A-I best of 133 points (11 ppg). The offense, with quarterback Blake Decker taking advantage of five games of seasoning the year before, rolled up 496 points. Running back Jacom Brimhall was the mainstay on the ground, rushing for 1,607 yards and 15 TDs. Decker often threw to six or seven different receivers in a game with no Toro catching more than 25 passes. Mountain View’s bid for a state-title game appearance ended at the hands of Brophy in the semifinals. The Toros’ six-year title drought matches the school’s longest
6. Westview (20): Centennial was the bane of the Knights’ existence, but Westview’s opponents probably applied the same label to them. Westview not only had the ability to blow out teams (seven victories were by 25 or more points) but also had a knack for winning the close ones. Three of its victories were by a touchdown or less. The last of those came in the state semis where the Knights took advantage of four Tempe Marcos de Niza turnovers and played stingy red-zone defense in a 14-7 win.
7. Chandler (18): Coach Jim Ewan was convinced the 2008 team was his best in his eight years at Chandler in ability and makeup. Running backs Bryce Lamb, Jamil Hines, Taylor Walstad and receivers Markus Wheaton and Caleve DeBoskie were difficult to stop and piled up yardage and points. The Wolves lost close games in the regular season to Phoenix Desert Vista and Tempe Corona del Sol, but navigated the Fiesta Region until Hamilton derailed their upset bid in the final minutes. Two weeks later, Hamilton did the nearly unimaginable by shutting out Chandler and its prolific offense to end the Wolves season.
8. Corona del Sol (13): Coach Gary Venturo saw size, more speed and experience in August, and figured that meant good things were coming. They came in the form of an 8-0 start to the season, including a 35-27 victory Oct. 17 at Chandler which turned the Aztecs from a team of curiosity into one of championship contention.
Then Phoenix Desert Vista posted a second-half comeback to hand Corona its first loss of the season on Halloween. Chandler Basha did the same the following week, and Corona was suddenly out of region title contention. Still a playoff team, they regrouped in time to clobber Laveen César Chavez at home in Round 1, but a matchup against then-undefeated Mesa Mountain View in the quarterfinals ended the Aztecs’ season.
9. Chaparral (7): The Firebirds sometimes ran short of offensive weapons, but it didn’t matter against most of their schedule. An impressive offensive line, Michigan commitments Craig Roh and Taylor Lewan, and junior running back Dwayne Garrett were enough to wear opposing teams down. Saguaro had their number, but the Firebirds didn’t lose to anyone else. Good coaching, high participation and second-to-none facilities puts Chaparral in the mix every year — even when they move up to 5A-II next season.
10. Marcos de Niza (6): In Marcos de Niza’s two losses this year, it gave up an average of 13.5 points per game. Against Avondale Westview in the 5A-II semifinals, the Padres were 15 yards away from tying the game until a fourth-down pass fell incomplete late in the fourth quarter. When Marcos’ offense was clicking, there weren’t many teams that could beat them, thanks in great part to a stout defense, led by Ramon Abreu and Anthony Rose.
1. Chandler Hamilton finally solved the postseason hex Phoenix Brophy cast over the Huskies in two previous meetings, as the Huskies regained the 5A Division I state title with a 17-10 victory over the Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium. Ryan Milus gave Hamilton a going-away present with a 96-yard kickoff return and an interception that ended a Brophy drive in the second half.
2. An Oct. 10 win against Chandler may have come at too steep a price for Phoenix Desert Vista. In the final two minutes, senior defensive lineman/running back Devon Kennard was running out the clock in a 21-20 victory when he was tackled from the side and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Thunder suffered on both sides of the ball without their state’s top high school player. Kennard still has five BCS schools waiting on his college of choice. The Thunder won the Central Region and secured the most regular season wins in Dan Hinds’ eight seasons but were upset in the first round of the playoffs at home by Gilbert Highland.
3. Scottsdale Saguaro’s seniors went out in style, blowing out rival Scottsdale Chaparral, 38-0, in the 4A-I state title game. It was the second consecutive shutout this year by Saguaro over the Firebirds. The Sabercats ended the year on a 33-game winning streak and became the first 4A team to three-peat since Flagstaff in the early 1980s, all with an enrollment of a 4A-II school. As many as eight players from the team could be playing Division I college football next year.
4. In contrast to last year when Scottsdale Notre Dame was led by its offense and the strong arm of Sean Renfree, the Saints were a defensive juggernaut this season. Both formulas resulted in a 4A-II state championship. In defending its title, Notre Dame saw little resistance, with an average margin of victory of 31.2 points through its first 13 games. Tucson Santa Rita gave the Saints a stiff test in the championship game, but Notre Dame responded by forcing three turnovers and rushing for 358 yards en route to a 30-26 win and its 23rd straight victory.
5. If fans attended only two games this season and those were Gilbert vs. Chandler in the regular season and the postseason, they got their money’s worth. Chandler notched come-from-behind victories in both, taking the regular-season contest, 42-39, in double overtime. The Wolves drove 82 yards on their final possession in the first round of the playoffs to score and edged Gilbert, 29-25.
Class 5A first-team offense
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Zak Hambsch Hamilton Sr. QB Combined for 2,800 yards rush/pass, 18 TD passes, 5 Int
Max Leonesio Brophy Jr. RB 5A leading rusher with 2,081 yards and 25 touchdowns
Jacom Brimhall Mtn View Jr. RB Rushed for 1,600 yards and 16 TDs
Drew Terrell Hamilton Sr. WR Stanford commit had 69 receptions for 898 yards, 5 TDs
Chris Heldore Desert Ridge Sr. WR 60 catches for 985 yards, 13 TDs; rushed for 813 yards
Jesse Brantley Gilbert Jr. WR Caught 35 passes for 960 yards and 11 TDs
Alex Cosenza Hamilton Sr. OL Leader of solid Huskies ground game up front
Jacob Westra Mtn. View Sr. OL Led Toros line that often sprung Brimhall to daylight
Drew Swartz Gilbert Sr. OL Two-way player for Tigers, Fiesta Region 2-way POY
Tyler Giannonatti Corona del Sol Sr. OL Two-way starter was anchor for RB Michael Lange
Conner Wilson Desert Vista Sr. OL Two-way starter was strongest player on team
Bryce Lamb Chandler Sr. RS Averaged 33 yards per kick return with 2 TDs
Josh Zaun Highland Sr. K 11 field goals, 3 in playoff upset of Desert Vista
Player of the year: Zak Hambsch, Hamilton
Coach of the year: Tom Joseph, Mtn. View: Only unbeaten team in 5A Division I until state semifinals.
5A second-team offense
QB: Blake Decker, Mtn. View, Sr.; RB: Michael Lange, Corona del Sol, Jr.; Zach Bauman, Hamilton, Jr.; Derek Molina, Red Mountain, Jr.; WR: Casey Bolena, Desert Vista, Sr.; Chris Jamison, Desert Ridge, Sr.; TE: Tyler French, Dobson, Sr.; OL: Kakalea Pule, Marcos de Niza, Sr.; Tyeler Davison, Desert Mtn., Jr.; Hank Jenkins, Brophy, Jr.; Fred Herdman, Pinnacle, Sr.; Kevin Ashak, Desert Ridge, Sr.; RS: Jordan Fox, Desert Mtn., Sr.; K: Alec Hsu, Desert Vista, Sr.
Class 5A first-team defense
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Trent Murphy Brophy Sr. DL Dominant in playoffs and Stanford-bound
Nate Birtcher Mtn. View Sr. DL Led E.V. Region with 15 sacks
Mike Tree Brophy Sr. DL All-State selection with Murphy and Padilla
Matt Padilla Brophy Sr. LB Desert Valley Region player of the year
Ramon Abreu Marcos de Niza Jr. LB 139 tackles, 6 Int, 4 fumble rec., four defensive TDs
Rueben Robinson Hamilton Sr. LB Hamilton defensive points leader, Oregon St. bound
Evan Altheide Corona del Sol Sr. LB 116 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 Int; 430 yards rushing
Kirby Pellant Corona del Sol Sr. DB Two-way starter and special teams ace had 5 INT
Ryan Milus Hamilton Sr. DB 70 tackles, 3 Int and TD return in title game; headed to UA
Donovan Henley Marcos de Niza Sr. DB 56 tackles, 4 interceptions
Cole Pembroke Desert Vista Sr. DB Converted QB became Central Region defensive POY
Josh Hubner Desert Mtn. Sr. P 41 yards per punt and stuck 16 inside the 20-yard line
5A second-team defense
DL: Ruben Rubio, Hamilton, Sr.; Seyi Adebayo, Brophy, Sr.; Andrew Hurley, Pinnacle, Jr.; Danny Mullarkey, Desert Vista, Sr.; LB: Jared Jones, Basha, Jr.; Rodney Reagans, Chandler, Sr.; Anthony Rose, Marcos de Niza, Sr.; DB: Jason Abbott, Brophy, Sr.; Bret Crowe, Gilbert, Sr.; Alex Salas, Sr.; Denton Zander, Dobson, Sr.; P: Mike Benjamin, Basha, Sr.
5A honorable mention
Basha: Quinton Andrews, Sr., RB/DL; Alvin Clark, Sr., RB; Stefan Fulce, Sr., WR; Dylan Flannery, Sr., LB; Taylor Mouser, Sr., DL; Will Still, Sr., RB; Brophy: Justin Frimmel, Jr., OL; Adam Holzmeister, Sr., LB; Edmund Hubbard, Jr., OL; Ryan Suniga, Sr., WR; Chandler: Jamil Hines, Sr., RB; William Poehls, Sr., OL; Markus Wheaton, Sr., WR; Sam Wences, Sr., DL; Corona del Sol: Vince Bonnano, Sr., OL; Zeric Butters, Sr., DL; Chase Cartwright, Sr., QB; Todd Peat, So., DL; Zach Sitton, Sr., DB; Desert Mountain: Dekota D’Angelo, Jr., WR; Kevin Radcliffe, Jr., QB; Kyle Tokasey, Jr., DB; Neusha Vakili, Sr., RB; Desert Ridge: Kevin Pantastico, Jr., QB; Jared Weverstadt, Jr., OL; Desert Vista: Devon Kennard, Sr., DL; Chris Redding, Sr., DL; Lee Williams, Sr., LB; Dobson: Derek O’Neil, Sr., OL; Terrance Martin, Jr., RB: Gilbert: Taylor Dahl, Sr., OL; Shawn Miller, Sr., LB; Gibraun Christensen, Sr., DL; Hamilton: Opinderjit Gill, Sr., OL; Alante Wright, Sr., WR; Mike Sylvestre, Sr., DL; Justin Rosales, Sr., LB; Highland: James Pazos, Sr., TE; Will Shaw, Sr., DB: Horizon: Donaven Anderson, Sr., WR; Shem Casey, Jr., WR; J.D. Souder, Sr., LB; Marcos de Niza: Justin Rodriguez, Jr., WR; Roy Garcia, Sr., OL; Brett Thompson, Sr., DL. Mesa: Devon Dietrich, Sr., OL; Mason Crandell, Sr., WR/K; Pasiaka Fahina, Sr., DL; T.J. Nunez, Sr., LB; K: Mesquite: Robert Dalton, Sr., DL; Mountain Pointe: De’Andre Currie, Jr., RB; Joe Leal, Jr., LB; Alex Lewis, Jr., OL; Tim Whiteside, Sr., DB; Mountain View: Anthony Warren, Sr., WR; Mike Akins, Jr., OL; Taylor Kleinman, Sr., DL; Brandon Mathews, Sr., LB; Sam Liechty, Sr., LB; Casey Mack, Sr., DB; Jordan Frost, Sr., P; Pinnacle: Taylor Stib, Sr., RB; Red Mountain: Josh Lunsford, Sr., DL; Cody Saul, Sr., WR; Jamie Pozniak, Sr., OL; Lucian Mariano, Sr., LB; Brett Cerqua, Sr., LB; Julian Madison, Sr., DB; St. Mary’s: Matt Alcantar, Sr., OL; Josh Fulton, Jr., TE/DL; R.J. McGill, Jr., RB; Skyline: Lance Hyer, Sr., OL; Tommy Brown, Sr., RB; Damari Lewis, Sr., RB; Westwood: John Holtz, Jr., OL/DL.
4A-2A first-team offense
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Colby Kirkegaard Arcadia Jr. QB 1,665 pass yards, 14 TDs; team 7-2 with him, 0-3 without
Beau Burton Saguaro Sr. RB Ran for 2,417 yards and 30 TDs and played defense
Dwayne Garrett Chaparral Jr. RB Speedster had 1,963 yards and 27 TDs
Kaylin Ashley Coronado Sr. RB Led 4A-II with 1,952 rushing yards, had 22 TDs
Trevor Gleisner Seton Catholic Jr. WR 48 catches for East Sky-best 964 yards, 12 TDs
Joel Hanson Queen Creek Sr. WR Bulldogs go-to receiver; 48 catches, 747 yards, 5 TDs
Max Smith Saguaro Sr. TE Caught 14 balls for 261 yards; great blocker
Taylor Lewan Chaparral Sr. OL Great size and motor will translate well to next level
Kody Koebensky Saguaro Sr. OL Best of elite group of linemen at Saguaro; ASU commit
Matt Kron Notre Dame Sr. OL Anchored line that cleared way for 2 1,000-yard rushers
Davis Voss Valley Christian Sr. OL Most dominant lineman on 3,800-yard rushing team
Colter Conway Higley Sr. OL Major reason why Knights ran for nearly 3,000 yards
Taylor Malenfant Notre Dame Sr. RS 25.4 punt return average, 4 punts brought back for TDs
Danny Compton Paradise Valley Sr. K Kicked 4 FGs in one game, consistently forced touchbacks
Player of the year: Beau Burton, Saguaro
Coach of the year: John Sanders, Saguaro. Led undefeated Sabercats to third straight 4A-I title.
4A-2A second-team offense
QB: Jacob Storrer, Scottsdale Christian, Sr.; RB: Tyree Parker, Paradise Valley, Jr.; Andrew Stutz, Notre Dame, Sr.; Chris Campbell, Higley, Sr.; WR: Bryan Dunlavey, Coronado, Sr.; David Carroll, Arcadia, Sr.; TE: Kevin Cosgrove, Arcadia, Sr.; OL: Cy Maughmer, Apache Junction, Jr.; Sebastian Sica, Saguaro, Jr.; Ethan Lewis, Chaparral, Sr.; Richard Breese, Coronado, Sr.; RS: Erik Brown, Saguaro, Sr.; K: D.J. Lechner, Queen Creek, Jr.
Class 4A-2A first-team defense
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Rusty Fernando Apache Junction Sr. DL Led team with 99 tackles and 12 sacks
Craig Roh Chaparral Sr. DL Michigan-bound end had 129 tackles and 14.5 sacks
Justin Jungblut Saguaro Sr. DL Had 72 tackles and 11 sacks in first year as starter
Stephen Sasso Valley Christian Sr. LB 2A Central player of the year with 156 tackles
Anthony Greco Notre Dame Sr. LB 118 tackles, 10.5 sacks despite bad shoulder
Ben Bisgard Saguaro Sr. LB Led Sabercats with 156 tackles and had 6 sacks
Ryan Reardon Notre Dame Sr. LB Had 96 tackles, 5 sacks for one of state’s top defenses
Ebenezer Makinde Paradise Valley Sr. DB Teams avoided throwing at this lockdown corner
Paul Porras Saguaro Sr. DB Primetime player had 7 interceptions
Iggy Castro Queen Creek Sr. DB 9 interceptions most among schools in Tribune area
Jordan Morgan Valley Christian So. DB Led 2A with 8 interceptions and was QB and punter
Andy Wilder Notre Dame Sr. P Averaged 41.8 yards per punt, put 9 of 25 inside 20
4A-2A second-team defense
DL: Derrick Nsubuga, Chaparral, Sr.; Corey Adams, Saguaro, Sr.; Michael Munsil, Scottsdale Christian, Sr.; R.J. Arriaga, Higley, Sr.; LB: Hayden Tippett, McClintock, Sr.; Joey Speltz, Higley, Sr.; David Alfaro, Coronado, Sr.; DB: Eric Urry, McClintock, Sr.; Kelvin Fisher, Higley, Sr.; DeMarco Jordan, Tempe, Jr.; Patrick Foley, Notre Dame, Sr.; P: Adam Brzeczek, Queen Creek, So.
4A-2A honorable mention
Apache Junction: Shane McCullen, Sr., RB; Justin Ferman, Sr., DE; Arcadia: Adam Joffe, Sr., LB; Pat Schrimsher, Jr., RB/LB; Dargin Romanin, Sr., DL; Chaparral: Tommy Russell, Sr., LB; Spencer Stone, Sr., QB; Tyler Williams, Sr., TE; Cord Claffey, Sr., DB; Coronado: Alex Buya, So., QB; Richard Breese, Sr., OL; Jamie Berry, Sr., OL; Sergio Arocha, Jr., DL; Esteban Sanchez, Sr., DL; Higley: Chris Campbell, Sr., RB; Zach Welborn, Jr., DL; Nic Reeder, Sr, OL; McClintock: Mychael Morales, Sr., WR; Notre Dame: Jake Shuman, Sr., DL; Blair Tushaus, Jr., OL; Garrett Riggio, Sr., DL; Paradise Valley: Jake Brown, Jr., RB; Dylan Borys, Sr., DB; Andrew Fajardo, Sr., OL; Perry: Tauren Darnell, Jr., RB; Chase Richardson, So., TE; Mo Latu, So., DL; Queen Creek: Bourgeous Lane, Jr., DL; Brighton Solomon, Sr., LB; Marqus Martinez, Sr., RB; Jake Goddard, Sr., RB; Saguaro: Kody Innes, Jr., OL; Elijah Housmeyer, Sr., OL; Austin Swindle, Sr., LB; Cole Rarrick, Sr., QB; Scottsdale Christian: Taylor Barnes, Sr., RB/DB; Francis Eusebio, Jr., OL; Paul Jurewicz, Jr., TE/DL; Brett Miller, Jr., DB; Seton Catholic: Justin Sieczkowski, Jr., QB; Joey Harrington, Sr, DB; Mitch Hershkowitz, Sr., LB; Tempe: Donald Horvath, Sr., DL; Zach Guizar, Sr., QB; John Bautch, Sr., LB; Jordan Wilson, Sr., DL; Valley Christian: James Fitzgerald, Jr., RB/DB; Garrett Kitchens, Sr., DL; Brock Longanecker, Sr., RB/LB; Mike O’Brien, Jr., WR/DL; Jimmy Oum, Sr., RB/DB; Williams Field: Brandon Warren, Jr, RB; Dylon Koch, Jr., LB; Andre Midence, Jr., OL.