Tempe Prep has traveled near and far during this unprecedented and highly successful football season.
The Knights’ journey has taken them to familiar gridirons around the Valley (Arizona Lutheran and Valley Christian high schools) as well as remote sites throughout the state (Duncan, Pima and Elfrida).
But there is still one location on the Knights’ wish list to visit: Apache Junction, site of this year’s 1A state semifinal and championship games.
Tempe Prep (8-1), which had never won a postseason game before this season, is one victory from securing a reservation in the final four. However, like the prospectors who once flocked to Apache Junction in hopes of striking it rich, the Knights face long odds.
Their opponent Friday is defending state champion Elfrida Valley Union (8-0), which has won 19 straight games and hasn’t lost at home since 2005.
“We’re the underdog. . . . We have to take it away from Valley Union,” Tempe Prep coach Tommy Brittain said.
Working in the Knights’ favor is that they will be back at full strength. Leading rusher Tom McDonald, who sat out last week’s first-round playoff game with a back injury, will play tonight. He wasn’t missed much last Friday when the Knights pounded out 341 yards against Scottsdale Salt River, but the Blue Devils are a much larger and much more physical team.
“They’re the biggest team we’ll face all year,” Brittain said.
Brittain said Valley Union is similar in may ways to the only team Tempe Prep has lost to this year, Pima.
“They’re disciplined and they rely on counters and an efficient running game,” he said.
When the Knights traveled to Pima two weeks ago, they were also heavy underdogs, but they held the lead early in the third quarter. An implosion (five turnovers in eight minutes) ruined Tempe Prep’s chances, but Brittain hopes the lessons learned from that game will carry over to tonight.
“I don’t have the kind of team that suffers from overconfidence,” he said. “If anything, it’s the opposite, so I’ve just got to remind them of the same thing I reminded them of against Pima: Don’t be surprised if the game is in doubt in the fourth quarter.”
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