Round 2 of three marquee matchups kicks off tonight in the semifinals of the 5A and 4A playoffs.
Scottsdale Chaparral, Phoenix Brophy and Tucson Sunnyside will all have revenge on their minds when they line up against Scottsdale Saguaro, Chandler Hamilton and Peoria Centennial, respectively.
Of the first meetings, only Saguaro’s 31-28 victory on Oct. 12 was close (Hamilton took care of Brophy 29-6 on Aug. 30 and Centennial had its way with Sunnyside 34-0 in last year’s 5A-II title game), and that rematch is our don’t-miss game of the week. If you can’t make it out, don’t worry. Cox Ch. 7 has you covered.
Always a chippy contest anyway because of the schools’ proximity (they’re separated by just five miles) and the success each has enjoyed (five state titles combined since 1995), this rivalry has evolved into arguably the East Valley’s best. The region rivals have split the past four meetings — three were decided by three points or less — and last season, the only blemish on the Sabercats’ record was a 24-21 regular-season loss to the Firebirds.
Chaparral appeared to be on its way to duplicating the feat this season when it trimmed a 21-0 second-quarter deficit to 24-21, but Saguaro responded.
“I think that was as good as Chaparral has been all year,” Sabercats coach John Sanders said.
As for his own team, Sanders said his squad was off its game and had to overcome several other factors as well.
“They had two weeks to prepare, so they put everything in you could fathom, — ways to get (wide receiver Mike) Cummings off the ball cleanly, a lot of stuff we’d never seen before. They did some things to us defensively we hadn’t seen.”
Sanders didn’t stop there.
“It was at their place, it was their first time in the new black uniforms, which our kids weren’t happy about because we’ve been all-black and they’ve been red,” he said.
“We had to go there. The locker room conditions were unbelievable, I’ll leave it at that.”
That game also included Sabercats starting center Sebastian Sica getting ejected for throwing a punch, which Sanders insists never happened.
After coming within one game of meeting up in the playoffs each of the past two years (Tucson Sabino knocked out Chaparral in the 2006 semis and Vail Cienega eliminated Saguaro in the first round in 2005), this game will take this rivalry to new heights, and we’re expecting nothing less than an instant classic.
“If you ask John, we’re going to have to play like the New England Patriots to beat them,” Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said. “Maybe he’s right. We’ll find out on Friday.”
CAN YOU SAY PARITY?
In the eight 5A and 4A title games since the classes were split in 2005, a team seeded lower than fourth has played for the championship only once, in ’05 when No. 6 Tucson Sabino lost to No. 1 Glendale Cactus.
That number will jump to at least three and could go as high as seven after this season.
The 5A-II tilt will feature either No. 6 Avondale Westview or No. 10 Phoenix South Mountain and the 4A-I contest will include either No. 6 Tucson Canyon del Oro or No. 7 Peoria. Meanwhile, No. 11 Phoenix Desert Vista (5A-I), No. 5 Tucson Sunnyside (5A-II), No. 5 Chaparral (4A-I) and No. 7 Gilbert Higley (4A-II) could also crash the party.
TICKETS ON SALE
Fans don’t have to wait until game day to purchase tickets to next Friday’s and Saturday’s 5A and 4A state championships.
Tickets are already on sale through the University of Phoenix Stadium box office and online at Ticketmaster.com. All tickets are general admission and cost $8 for adults and $6 for students with ID.
The 4A-II title game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday followed by the 5A-II game at 8 p.m. On Saturday, the 4A-I championship kicks off at 1 p.m. with the 5A-I game scheduled for 5 p.m.
Coaches love to say, “It’s tough to beat a team twice in one season,” but that statement hasn’t held up this year in the 5A and 4A playoffs. Of the 17 rematches, only three have been won by the team that lost the first time around.
All-Trib watch Phoenix Brophy receiver Sean Lieb had 11 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 5A-I quarterfinal victory over Tempe Corona del Sol.
Should he stay or should he go?
Georgia Tech’s decision to fire football coach Chan Gailey this week could have local implications since prized recruit and Scottsdale Notre Dame quarterback Sean Renfree is no longer bound to honor the letter of intent he signed before this season.
While Renfree said he is still committed to Tech, you can bet recruiters are salivating at the opportunity to convince Renfree to make an 11th-hour switch.
He strikes with Thunder
While Mesa Red Mountain’s defense has produced one of the most impressive storylines this postseason (see Page 7), it won’t be the only story from that side of the ball on the field tonight.
Phoenix Desert Vista end Devon Kennard has compiled 24.5 sacks in 12 games. That’s 4.5 more than last year’s state leader, Mesa Mountain View’s Ridge Nielsen, collected in 14 games.
That’s remarkable enough. But when you consider that Kennard is only a junior, it’s scary.