Here lies the 2011 East Valley football season.
Of course, it's hardly a complete revisitation of what's gone on on a daily and weekly basis since last spring, let alone since late August. It is merely rehashing a few interesting or much-discussed topics from fall 2011.
It was, as four-month seasons always are, a winding road that was weaved. Congrats to all the champions, and programs that didn't win but should still feel like champions for various reasons.
So, too, will shortly come time to look towards 2012.
Rest in peace. The visitation is now open ...
Scheduling soap opera
Probably the biggest consternation among all was the new computer scheduling, which automatically chose eight games based on each school's Division (based on student enrollment) and Section (loosely based on geography within each Division). But it also left many scratching their heads about the computer's accuracy and fairness under new postseason guidelines in which the top three teams in each section automatically make the postseason (based on power rankings) while the rest are also determined by power points. With unbalanced schedules among all section schools, it's left many frustrated over inequities and an inability to accurately choose postseason awards for kids. Many schools wound up playing multiple games against schools in higher/lower division, while others never played schools a division higher/lower that were geographically closer than others. Schools scrambled to schedule two games on its own to fill out the 10-game schedule, and bye weeks were eliminated for this year in both the regular season and the postseason (for big schools).
Surprises on the scene
Anyone heard of TJ Thomas in August? It didn't long before everyone in the East Valley learned, as the Dobson running back went from distant backup in 2010 to harnessing potential with 1,910 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns despite missing the final week of the season. Both Seton Catholic's Ryan Bresnahan and Saguaro QB Luke Rubenzer were named starters right before opening night and both turned in exceptional seasons. San Tan Foothills went from 3-7 in 2010 to the Div. V semifinals in 2011, one of the best feel-good stories on or off the field in Arizona.
Notre Dame was left for dead at 2-4 after moving up to Division II, followed by coach Scot Bemis leaving to battle lung cancer. But the Saints won four consecutive games to make the playoffs, then knocked off Salpointe Catholic in Tucson before falling in the quarterfinals.
Scottsdale Christian had a renaissance, Corona del Sol won five more games than it did in 2010, Poston Butte surged, Queen Creek's whole new team, Perry blew out Basha. The list goes on.
Sanders sits starters
The most controversial decision of the season belonged to Saguaro coach John Sanders. In one of the year's most anticipated games against bitter-rival Chaparral (Division II), he chose to sit several of his key players, including star running back D.J. Foster, leading to a 65-0 blowout victory for the Firebirds in the regular season finale. Sanders drew rampant criticism for the decision, and defended it by not wanting his key guys getting injured with the postseason around the corner. The Sabercats ultimately achieved their true goal with a victory over Glendale Cactus. But many believe sitting the starters will be the defining moment of this season for Saguaro above a second consecutive title.
"Play to the whistle" (or horn) is cliche, but there's reason it is. The proof was at Paradise Valley, which trailed Phoenix Thunderbird by 26 points in the second half. A 3rd-and-21 conversion and QB sneak at the buzzer capped a 10-point swing in the final minute for the Trojans in victory. Desert Mountain put an end to Pinnacle's previously-perfect run in Week 9, as the Wolves scored 35 points in the fourth quarter that turned a 21-point deficit into a seven-point win. Hamilton used four fumbles in the fourth quarter by Chandler to keep the Huskies then-winning streak alive in late September. Red Mountain trailed big early against Desert Ridge, but that didn't last. Desert Vista trailed Saguaro 28-6 at halftime but the Thunder stayed the course and wore out the Sabercats in the second half to win 31-28.
Whether because of the new schedule format or kids being better than ever, the record books will absorb a lot of Whiteout this offseason: Desert Ridge's Joey Counts (411 yards rushing) set a big-school state record that lasted two weeks because Saguaro's D.J. Foster obliterated it with 508 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first round of the playoffs. Chaparral's Connor Brewer is Arizona's new career holder in touchdown passes (100). Ryan Bresnahan (Seton Catholic) nearly topped the single-season record for TD passes. Scottsdale Prep's Aidan Wright (535 yards in a game, 3,020 yards in a season, 50 TD passes) and Matt Munsil (19 catches for 279 yards) set Div. VI (8-man) records. Remarkable indeed.
Much was written about the dominance by Hamilton (Div. I), Chaparral (Div. II) and Saguaro (Div. III) in their respective divisions, but all three were on the ropes. The Huskies famously falling to Desert Vista in the title game. Hamilton was beaten soundly by the Thunder, falling behind 21-0 early and never challenging in a 45-19 loss, breaking the Huskies' 53-game winning streak. Chaparral lost its season opener to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and survived a scare against Tucson Salpointe in its second game, but cruised after that until Peoria Centennial rallied from a 17-0 half-time deficit to jump ahead of the Firebirds, and Chaparral needed a late rally to hold on, 31-30, in the Division II semifinals. The Firebirds would cruise past Vail Cienega in the title game for their third straight championship. Saguaro fell behind Glendale Cactus, 23-14 in the Division III title game, but scored the final 17 points of that one for a 31-23 victory.