Football is — among so many things — a game of attrition, which explains why many schools struggle either suddenly or gradually. That’s happening everywhere around East Valley football programs these days, seemingly with more frequency than ever (at least it feels that way).
The reversal of attrition (accretion) might also explain a couple programs who’ve suddenly surged as Week 7 turns to Week 8 and the playoff picture draws near.
It’s not always about who’s lost due to injury. Sometimes it’s about who (and how many) return.
Let’s start with Red Mountain. The Lions (3-4) have a long way to go in these final three weeks to cement themselves as a playoff team with Desert Ridge, Mountain View and Skyline on the schedule. But because of the punishing schedule the Lions were always in the mix no matter their record, and, because of the return of QB Caleb Murray-Thomas two weeks ago from injury, the Lions have suddenly become dangerous. He threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns and ran for three scores in a blowout win over Desert Mountain last week. He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns against Mesa on Friday night, and suddenly the Lions’ offense isn’t a bunch of broken pieces.
Mountain Pointe welcomed back (most of) Wesley Payne from his arm injury. He ran for 206 yards against Brophy. Now who wants to play the Pride?
After failing to do so last week against Chandler, Hamilton found a way to hang on defensively in the final minute of its win over Basha on Friday. Who’s going to want to play Hamilton in a couple weeks when a majority of the Huskies’ missing pieces — notably offensive lineman Casey Tucker — are back in the lineup?
If Rajhan Meriwether continues his way back from a hamstring injury, who’s going to want to face Basha’s offense? Desert Mountain got a couple starters back the past two weeks and just put up 34 points in one half against Mountain View. One or two more starters are expected back before the playoffs, who’s eager to defend that offense?
Won’t Chaparral be back in Div. II title contention when quarterback Sean Paul Brophy returns from his back injury? Anyone want to play against Marcos de Niza now that Josh Eckley showed he could throw and move around (at least to some degree) to lead a big Padres’ comeback win on Friday?
Who wants to play Queen Creek when Matt Guida and/or Weston Barlow come back? Or Williams Field since Cole Forsgren returned from his early-season injury? Or Erick Belcher for Campo Verde?
By now, every school is hurting somewhere — especially Mountain View — and it’s all a part of football’s flukiness. The severity and “victim(s)” associated with those injuries plays as much a role as anything in resolving the “last team standing” cliché.
Week 7 seemed to follow a trend of either crazy comebacks/nail-biters, or blowout city.
Will Week 8 follow suit? Based on paper and recent history of results, it might, because the schedule appears to again be uneven.
Suddenly-surging Red Mountain will face Desert Ridge’s running game, as the Jaguars finally see an uptick in competition reminiscent of its early-season schedule. Of course, it’s status quo for the Lions and their relentlessly difficult schedule as they try to cobble enough wins together with that strength to sneak in.
Mountain View and Mesa will tangle again, an offense (Mountain View) vs. defense (Mesa) battle which hasn’t always been the closest of margins recently, but is never short on emotion.
The Toros are licking a lot of physical wounds these days, and a few mental ones, after a horrible second half in a loss to Desert Mountain on Thursday night.
Queen Creek at Williams Field is the other big matchup. Both schools barely lost to another Div. III title contender in Saguaro (the Black Hawks’ nearly pulled off a massive comeback on Friday night), and appear a bit more even this time around than the lopsided Queen Creek victories of the past two years. Will Matt Guida return from injury? Will Guida’s backup, Weston Barlow, return from injury? Can Williams Field play like it did in the second and third quarters against Saguaro?
Highland at Basha, Mesquite at Poston Butte, Paradise Valley at Cactus Shadows, Notre Dame at Arcadia and Valley Christian vs. Scottsdale Prep (Saturday at Chaparral H.S.) are also worthy of your attention.
•Florence: Four days after losing coach Steve McKane to a heart attack (a former standout player at Mesa High), the Gophers hit the field behind Steve’s father and Tigers’ defensive coordinator, longtime Mesa man Bill McKane. Then they came back to beat Combs in overtime. It doesn’t get any more overly dramatic or emotional than that, and the McKanes and Florence have every right to feel that way.
•Corona del Sol: Yes, Dobson isn’t exactly the same as facing Mountain Pointe (next week’s opponent), Brophy or Horizon, but the Aztecs are on the board. The program has been surrounded by enough vitriol from outsiders (including yours truly) and turmoil internally. But even the midst of a dark season among a few consecutive dark seasons, kids don’t often care who the win came against, only that it came. Go ahead and smile for a day or two.
•Special teams: The Hamilton-Basha game alone could make for a 2-hour instructional DVD on how not to kick, cover and commit penalties. That game could stand on its own if similar things didn’t play out in a dozen other games, including Mountain View-Desert Mountain which began the Toros’ trainwreck of a second half in blowing its 10-point halftime lead Thursday night. It’s time again for everyone to shave 20 minutes off their spread offense “wizardry” to teach kids about staying in lanes, tackling and how to miss the kicker if you miss blocking the punt.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.