No. 9 Red Mountain at No. 8 Highland
No. 9 Red Mountain at No. 8 Highland: Whether these two teams are, in fact, appropriately places at No. 8 and No. 9, can be argued any which way. But based on the proximity to one another, this should be shaping up a true 8-vs.-9 matchup, an absolute toss-up, coin-flip of a game. Both teams have played good defense of late, especially Highland. Can Red Mountain, which found itself after a 1-4 start to the season with a young team and relentless schedule, continue to succeed with Caleb Murray-Thomas and Brennen Dobson giving different looks offensively? Highland’s defense is stout, but the offense has shown flashes of effectiveness sprinkled in with struggles to score (including last week in a loss to Chandler). Still, that defense is strong and the Hawks are capable of putting up enough points in their methodical, grind-it-out fashion. It’s one of the more difficult games to predict this season because of the style, but somebody has to win eventually.
Prediction: Highland 23, Red Mountain 20
No. 13 Desert Mountain at No. 4 Desert Ridge
No. 13 Desert Mountain at No. 4 Desert Ridge: Two massive questions here: Can Desert Mountain QB Kyle Allen play and be effective? Can Desert Mountain (pictured in black uniforms) stop Desert Ridge’s rushing attack? The former seems more likely than the latter after the Jaguars ran for 404 total yards (313 by Taren Morrison) against Desert Mountain in a 55-41 win over the Wolves on Oct. 25. If able to play, Allen (296 yards passing, 4 TD in previous meeting) and Mark Andrews (14 catches for 201 yards and 3 TD) are going to do significant damage, and the Wolves have a decent running game with Deion Warren (132 yards last meeting). But Desert Ridge’s defense can run and get physical. The Wolves’ defense has only done so for stretches. Barring a rash of turnovers, it’s hard seeing Desert Ridge’s running game being stymied for all four quarters. Just because everyone knows what’s coming, doesn’t mean it can be stopped.
Prediction: Desert Ridge 41, Desert Mountain 28
No. 10 Basha at No. 7 Horizon
No. 10 Basha at No. 7 Horizon: A modern-day, hooray-for-offense fan’s dream. These two teams could combine to score 90 without flinching. Leading by 14 or even 21 points within most any stretch of the game won’t matter much. Who’s going to stop who, when, and how often? Zach Werlinger is slinging the ball as well as anyone in the East Valley this season (62 percent completions, 22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) throwing to Doc O’Connor, Ryan Robertson and Joe Storm, and Rajhan Meriwether has gotten the running game going the past three weeks. Still, a win over Gilbert doesn’t make all the world better after a three-game losing streak, and the Bears’ defense is going to get plenty of help from the offense. Can the ‘D’ do the job? Horizon (pictured in white) isn’t real big up front, but the skill position kids and run-pass balance is difficult to stop. It’s last team standing in this one, and the Huskies best hope is to stuff Basha’s running game, though it didn’t work against Pinnacle and Marcos de Niza in losses. Pinnacle was the best among common opponents (Basha beat Pinnacle 35-21, Horizon lost to Pinnacle 49-39) but the Pioneers didn’t play well against Basha and committed turnovers. If Basha wins the plus-minus battle, it wins the game. If not, some defensive players are going to be pretty wiped out.
Prediction: Horizon 44, Basha 38
No. 11 Ironwood Ridge at No. 6 Marcos de Niza
Ironwood Ridge at Marcos de Niza: Which way will the Padres go? Having essentially lost coach Roy Lopez for this week (the future is still unknown), the Padres could go crazy and wipe the floor with the rest of Division II. Or they could fold the tents given the magnitude of what’s gone on around the program this week. Beyond the subplots, this will be the third meeting between the schools in the past two years, with Ironwood Ridge winning the regular season and playoff matchups last year. This, however, is a vastly different IR squad, and a recent three-game losing streak has the Div. II defending champions looking vulnerable. Josh Eckley has been close to his old self running and passing the ball since returning from an ankle injury, and while it’ll never fully heal, the things he did in the second half against Saguaro last week are hard to defend. Ironwood Ridge has come to Tempe and won before, but Marcos’ offense is playing well, Ironwood Ridge isn’t quite the same as the 2012 version (watch out in 2014, however), and the extra elements of distraction and emotions with the Lopez situation will be channeled in the Padres’ favor.
Prediction: Marcos de Niza 35, Ironwood Ridge 27
No. 9 Higley at No. 8 Canyon del Oro
No. 9 Higley at No. 8 Canyon del Oro: Those first two games of the season Higley (pictured in blue) forfeited for using an ineligible might have ultimately helped the Knights stay slightly higher in the playoff seedings, but the Knights would have probably been more comfortable facing No. 6 Shadow Ridge or No. 7 Sabino (plus it wouldn’t set up a possible quarterfinal rematch against No. 1 Williams Field). CDO is balanced, but the Dorados are going to run the ball (240 yards per game, 6.2 yards per carry), and that’s been a troublesome area for the Knights’ defense (see Phoenix Christian, Queen Creek, Saguaro and Williams Field games). Conversely, however, Higley can run the ball with Ricky Marshall and throw with QB Tyler Bloom back in the fold this week after missing the Williams Field loss with a shoulder injury. Further, the CDO schedule hasn’t been stingy, are they ready to handle Higley’s offensive balance.
Prediction: Higley 31, Canyon del Oro 24