The focus leading up to Friday’s Desert Vista and Hamilton contest will mostly be on the state championship game.
The Thunder fans and players might reminisce about how their team played nearly a perfect game last November on the way to the program’s second state title.
Hamilton coaches, players and fans remember it a little differently. Rarely have the Huskies ever been manhandled like that. It might be brought up once or twice or 23 times each practice leading up to hosting the Thunder this week.
Chances are, however, that game never happens if the first meeting didn’t play out the way it did.
The Huskies came into Thunder Stadium and walked away with a 35-10 win that was ignited by a 70-yard pass just after halftime to break open a 14-3 game.
“We experienced a really emotional game against Saguaro the week before,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds recalled. “We had a bit of a letdown and I sensed it. We moved the ball but had some mistakes and our defense gave up some big plays.
“We weren’t really concerned after that because most of the problems were caused by our mistakes.”
The defeat set the stage for the rematch in the title game when Desert Vista came in confident and ready to do some damage.
“That loss showed us we had a lot of work to do and probably changed our season,” senior running back Jarek Hilgers said. “Then once we had a chance to see them again it kind of gave us a grudge and something to fight for. We felt like we had something to prove.”
Heading into this clash, Hamilton (4-2) is bringing a similar approach against the Thunder (5-1) after being on the other end of a beating usually given out by the Huskies.
“The kids remember it so we don’t have to mention it all that much,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “They handled us. There really is no other way to put it. We had that early turnover (to make it 14-0) and all the momentum went their way and we never did anything to get it back.”
Each team has a different cast of characters, of course, after graduation hit both teams hard, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a link to last year’s game.
Hamilton has five starters back from last year’s title game, including offensive lineman Patrick Joseph and wide receiver/defensive back Cole Luke, while the Thunder have eight back, including four on the offensive line.
Then there are the coaching staffs. Both are as competitive and hard working as they come. Belles and his assistants were probably unhappy with some of their in-game adjustments (or lack thereof) in the title game.
“You can look back at any game, win or lose, and see what you could do differently,” Belles said. “They did some things to us defensively that we should have done better with, but we didn’t. That’s why you play the games.”
Plus, after last week’s action, in which previously undefeated Mountain Pointe and Red Mountain lost, many see the Huskies and Thunder as the top two teams in Division I.
“Everyone has an in-state loss now (other than Desert Mountain),” senior two-way linemen Dylan Fischer said. “Now, everyone can really start establishing themselves and see where they are at. This is a big game and we’ll be ready.”
Hamilton, which has won four in row after opening the year with two defeats, including a trip to Ireland, hasn’t had to play the revenge card too often over the years so it will be interesting to see how the Huskies come out.
“I think (Desert Vista) is probably better this year than last year,” Belles said. “They are different. They have big guys up front and try to pound it down your throat and make you like it at the same time.”
Before the reverse of fortune in the state title game, the Thunder had not really been a threat to the Huskies. Hamilton won the previous all-time meetings by the score of 195-61, dating back to the first meeting in 2005.
The Desert Vista game has a whole new meaning for the Huskies now.
“I’m sure they are gunning for us,” Hilgers said. “As state champs everyone is gunning for us. They are still Hamilton, so we want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us. It will be a good game and we are looking for the win.”
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