The state’s football Goliath hasn’t even played a down this season and already it has company.
With Mountain Pointe’s surprising 28-21 win over Las Vegas Bishop Gorman on Friday night, it is now positioned squarely next to — not behind — Hamilton as the Division I title favorites.
Yes, I know, we’ve heard this before.
After all, Mountain Pointe was a fashionable pick to upset Hamilton in last year’s title game and was thoroughly outclassed.
But here’s one thing we should probably realize: That 2012 Pride team was a year away from reaching its true potential. And now, one very impressive win later, that ability is on full display.
Last season, many of Mountain Pointe’s best players — Jalen Brown, Natrell Curtis, Wesley Payne, Antonio Hinojosa — were juniors. The offseason brought a Division I-caliber cornerback transfer in Dominique Fenstermacher (from Marcos de Niza), and sophomore running back Paul Lucas showed against the Gaels he’s more than ready for prime time.
It’s hard to see any glaring weakness in Mountain Pointe, as the passing game is good, the defense stout and the coaching top-notch. One potential shortcoming, the running game, was a huge strength against Bishop Gorman as Payne and Lucas filled in seamlessly following the graduations of Thomas Warren and Garrette Craig.
Bishop Gorman may have been inexperienced, but its roster is filled with elite talents who will beat teams with their sheer athleticism most weeks. The fact it was Mountain Pointe which controlled the contest, and the Pride turned the ball over four times and still won, says a ton about the quality of the roster.
This is not about discounting the Huskies. With eight returning starters from last year’s ferocious defense, we could be looking at one of the best shutdown units in state history. In fact, Hamilton could probably play with 10 guys on defense this year and still slow down most of the teams in Arizona.
Even though the Huskies have inexperience dotting the skill positions on offense, talented linemen like Casey Tucker and Bryce Holland should cover up many of those early-season warts.
Hamilton came out of a transition year in 2012 with the Division I title and should be better in 2013. Mountain Pointe made a great run last season and has already shown its improvement with the win over Bishop Gorman.
There will be plenty of debate leading up to the Sept. 27 showdown between these teams about which is better, and the buzz on game day could be unprecedented if both are still undefeated.
Last year was fun because Hamilton lost early and everyone could dream about a state title.
This, though, is the best scenario. It’s the Celtics-Lakers of the 1980s, Yankees-Red Sox of the 2000s.
Two titans on a collision course, first in the regular season and then almost certainly in the playoffs.
And on Friday night, Mountain Pointe upped the ante.
Queen Creek won its 15th game in a row, 21-12, over Poston Butte on Friday night, but the defending Division III champions know plenty of work lies ahead. Running back Matt Guida is as electric as ever, but as he pointed out after the game, the Broncos were more than happy to stack the box and focus all their efforts on him.
As good as Guida was last season, the underrated ability of wide receiver Gabe Vasquez played a tremendous role in the team’s success. His hands were incredible and just the threat of him in the passing game forced defenses to play softer coverage. Between Guida, Vasquez and Marcus Still, the Bulldogs had three scary options offensively. Guida is back, but the offense needs more variety because teams are absolutely going to force Queen Creek to win through the air.
That being said, the Bulldogs’ defense was dominant against Poston Butte, so maybe that formula can continue to work. Next week’s matchup with Highland should shed more light on this new-look Queen Creek squad.