Yes, it’s only late September. No, Hamilton and Mountain Pointe had no interest in playing one another during the regular season.
But scheduling dynamics didn’t unfold ideally for either side, so here we are. And, to help close out the midway point of the regular season, neither side made any bones about this matchup possibly living up to external expectations.
Both sides know this could be merely a preview for later this fall. Both sides are dealing with injuries of varying quantity among its quality players (Mountain Pointe is without its leader in Wesley Payne while Hamilton could have upward of six starters out this week).
“All the kids will eventually come back,” Huskies coach Steve Belles said. “It is what it is. We’re going to put our 11 best kids at any given time and win the football game. We’re not there to just show up.
“Whatever kids are out there, we’ll get after them. I don’t look at it is as woeth us. It’s opportunities for kids and coaches.
None of this changed perceptions about the other.
“The tall tales of their death is slightly exaggerated,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said of Hamilton. “I’m trying to figure out how to get first downs and maybe a field goal. They have the best front four (defensive line) in Arizona high school football.”
So it appears both sides know how good the other is, and both sides know the season doesn’t end here, win or lose.
“It’s our Game 5 and their Game 4. There’s a long, windy road ahead.”
Mountain Pointe, however, is considered a favorite, not just because the Pride (5-0) beat nationally-renowned Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in the Barry Sollenberger Classic, cruised through their next three games and then hammered a powerful Chandler team last week.
The Pride’s style and physicality on both sides of the ball also contributes to its perch as a widespread No. 1-ranked team in Division I as it attempts to carve out a different result from the loss to Hamilton in last year’s championship game.
The Huskies (4-0) have had well-documented offensively and (surprisingly) on special teams, while the defense has remained one of the state’s elite. Hamilton slugged its way through a rough second half against Eastlake (Calif.) in the opener, did the same against a stingy Brophy team, absorbed Pinnacle’s best and held on late, and squeaked by Liberty (Nev.) last week, 14-10; a Liberty team which lost 48-7 to Salpointe Catholic in Week 1.
All of which has created the “Hamilton is struggling” perception, which suits the Huskies just fine. This similar sentiment existed last year, when Hamilton lost to Mountain Pointe to begin the regular season, then was beaten in Ireland. The Huskies struggled offensively more often than not, and were 0-2 for the first time in school history.
The rest of Division I (including Mountain Pointe) remembers what happened for the next 12 weeks.
Lesson learned? Or a changing of the Div. I guard? Or something in between? You can reasonably decide for yourself after Friday night.
“This game is about being in a good position to seed yourself in the playoffs,” Belles said. “Other than that it’s something to hang your hat out, but we and they know all too well that just because you’ve done it, doesn’t mean you’ll do it again.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.