Much of Division III will be watching in earnest as the Queen Creek football program begins its title defense on Friday against Poston Butte.
The Bulldogs return only three starters from a year ago, so a repeat won’t be easy. However, when one of those returners is the reigning Tribune Player of the Year, it makes the transition a little less treacherous.
Running back Matt Guida will be a senior this season after rushing 204 times for 2,829 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2012. Carson Sawyer is the only starting offensive lineman returning and the skill players are completely new, so he could be leaned on quite a bit early on in the season. Coach Joe Germaine, though, knows he must find reinforcements for Queen Creek to be successful.
The Bulldogs went 14-0 last season behind not only Guida, but a dominant defense and a successful passing game.
“I want him to just be himself,” Germaine said. “We’re going to try and be as balanced as possible. That’s our ultimate goal. We understand he’s a great talent but he can’t do it alone.”
Poston Butte went 5-5 last season and missed the playoffs but coach Mike De La Torre is optimistic. The Broncos return eight starters on defense, and that type of experience is key, especially when the season opener is a rivalry game against the defending champions.
“No matter what you do, no matter how many reps you do, as soon as the lights come on (the newcomers seem to) forget about 50 percent of it,” De La Torre said.
And with Guida on the other side, that’s a dangerous notion.
“When one person breaks down, that’s a touchdown,” De La Torre said. “We’re not looking at a 4- or 5-yard gain with him. We have to be sound and consistent because you know at any time he can take it the distance. And, shoot, just tackle.”
Poston Butte running back Brandon Hatfield has starred at lower levels but dealt with injuries last year as a sophomore on varsity. Big things are expected, and the type of game he has against a brand-new Queen Creek defense could play a role in the game’s result.
There’s plenty of buzz for this game already as it’s one of the few on the ‘zero week’ portion of the schedule, but there’s even more because the schools are only a few miles a part.
“It’s the local rivalry,” Germaine said. “Poston Butte is always a tough team for us.”
Queen Creek is ranked No. 3 in Division III heading into the season, because even with the loss of such significant talent, the program continues to churn out talented kids.
The Broncos, meanwhile, should be better than last year based on the type of talent they have returning.
Even though this is only the season opener, both teams should have a much better indication of where they stand once the final buzzer sounds.
“Reloading is a little different for programs,” De La Torre said. “I don’t know that they’re going to drop very much. They always seem to have guys to refill and play. They’ve got that winning culture. Our kids are eager to measure themselves against a state-championship quality team. Where are we compared to these types of teams?”