There were plenty of headaches due to the increase in football freedom games during the offseason.
The drop in automatic computer scheduling put more emphasis on coaches and athletic directors to find opponents, which sometimes had its challenges. The East Valley’s best programs, for instance, didn’t exactly have teams lining up to play against them.
While it may have led to some extra work, it’s hard not to appreciate how much it’s done for some of the East Valley’s downtrodden programs.
Take a quick look around at some of the annual cellar dwellers, and the win column beside their name is getting downright fattening.
Skyline is off to a 3-0 start, and 5-0 is a legitimate possibility with Gilbert and Maryvale coming up. Mesa and Westwood are each 2-1 after combining for three wins all of last season. Combs went 1-9 in 2012 and is 3-0 this year. McClintock lost to Tempe on Friday night but is still 2-1. Apache Junction is 2-1 after a one-win season in 2012.
Down the list, teams which have struggled in the past few seasons are finding material gains easily in 2013.
Now, does that all of a sudden mean they will be playoff participants? For the vast majority of them, it’s still unlikely.
But even though some of the victories piled up are against softer competition, it’s a nice payoff for the players in these programs.
There’s always talk about athletes staying in their high school boundaries. In the past few years, though, what was the incentive for a standout player to remain at a school like Westwood?
In 2012, the Warriors had an eight-game stretch of opponents which included Brophy, Desert Mountain, Desert Vista, Mountain View, Red Mountain and Mountain Pointe. All the rah-rah speeches in the world wouldn’t have changed the stark reality of a loss in each of those games as soon as they were marked down on the schedule.
This year, the Warriors beat La Joya and Maryvale to open the season before losing to Mesa on Thursday night. Next up is Gila Ridge, followed by North.
In the past, Westwood would be sitting at 1-2 or 0-3 while staring down a bevy of title contenders. Now, the Warriors are above .500 with a chance to capture a few more games.
While the coaches of these programs are fighting various challenges, all have had trouble finding positive results on the field. And with the recent computer scheduling, there was no way to get out of the hole. A 2-8 season gets followed by a 1-9 season, and the occasional good group wins three or four games in a year.
Now that more freedom games have entered the picture, these kids can experience some success. And winning a game on Friday night, no matter who the opponent, does wonders for the next week of practice.
Hamilton star offensive lineman Casey Tucker left Thursday’s game against Pinnacle with a sprained left ankle. Teammates Brandon Krcilek and Chip Hansen left with shoulder injuries.
Queen Creek running back Matt Guida did not play in a 33-12 win over Show Low after suffering an injury the week before against Highland. Weston Barlow ran for 231 yards and four touchdowns in his absence.
Everyone anxiously awaits the high-powered showdown between Mountain Pointe and Hamilton on Sept. 27, but before that the Pride must face off against a scary Chandler squad. Mountain Pointe squeaked by the Wolves last season and this one could be just as entertaining. There will be a whole lot of talent on that field and it could be a track meet.
Red Mountain and Brophy are probably two of the 12 best teams in Division I, but a brutal schedule has both in a danger zone. The Mountain Lions dropped to 0-3 with a close loss to Avondale Westview on Thursday while the Broncos fell to 1-2 by losing to Peoria Centenial. They face off on Friday at Phoenix College in a critical contest.
Chaparral travels to Desert Mountain in another top-tier matchup, while Pinnacle-Basha and Cactus Shadows-Mesquite are a pair of other intriguing games.
Pinnacle: The Pioneers posted impressive win-loss records the past two years but were beaten easily by top-tier Division I programs in the postseason. They beefed up the regular season schedule this year and showed on Thursday how much they’ve improved. Pinnacle hung with top-ranked Hamilton from start to finish, eventually falling 24-20. That showing, coupled with a win over Red Mountain in the opener, proves that Pinnacle deserves its top-10 ranking.
Marcos de Niza-Buena: The defensive coaches on each side may be clawing their hair out, but boy, was that an entertaining game on Friday night. The Padres set a school record with 78 points behind 359 yards passing, 158 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns from quarterback Josh Eckley. The Colts led by 14 points at halftime but couldn’t hold on. Marcos de Niza badly needs to figure out a way to stop people after allowing an average of 55 points per game in the first three contests, but the Padres are 3-0 and coach Roy Lopez gave this gem of a quote after the win: “They say that defense wins championships. I don’t know, I think times have changed, and I’m a defensive guy.”
Vinciane Luff, Apache Junction: The Prospectors lost their first game of the season to Phoenix Alhambra on Thursday night, 26-20, but it was an unforgettable experience for the team’s placekicker. Luff, an Apache Junction female freshman, joined the football team three weeks ago at the suggestion of girls soccer coach Norm Hoefer and was a perfect 2-for-2 on extra point attempts in her first career game. She was born in France and played soccer in Europe before moving to the United States. Luff is one of two female football players in the Prospectors football program along with Danielle Moore, a sophomore defensive back/receiver on the junior varsity.
Field goal ruling: Mesquite won in crazy fashion on Thursday night. The Wildcats had a potential game-winning field goal blocked, but kicker Jarrod James recovered the ball behind the line of scrimmage to give himself another chance and subsequently hit the 40-yarder. It was a heads-up play by James, but the rule seems silly. Defenses shouldn’t be penalized for blocking a field goal. It should be a change of possession after any blocked kick. Regardless, Mesquite caught a break and took advantage.
Pinnacle’s late FG decision: The Pioneers played a great game against Hamilton, but I would have liked to see some more aggressiveness early in the fourth quarter. Pinnacle trailed 21-17 at the time and faced a 4th-and-2 from the Huskies’ 6-yard-line. Against a defense like that, I thought going for the touchdown was the right call. Instead, the Pioneers took the field goal to pull within one point but didn’t score again in the 24-20 loss. A touchdown would have given the Pioneers the lead and put a ton of pressure on a young Huskies offense. Instead, Hamilton used the strength of its defense to hold Pinnacle scoreless the rest of the way.