No. 4 Desert Ridge vs. No. 1 Mountain Pointe (Div. I)
No. 4 Desert Ridge vs. No. 1 Mountain Pointe (at McClintock H.S.): The easy pick is Mountain Pointe. After all, the Pride have been in a league of their from day 1 when they beat Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) on Gorman’s home field in late August. Nobody has stopped the Pride since, a rare combination of offensive balance, a defense, clearly defined leaders, excellent coaching, and something of a chip on their shoulder after losing handily in last year’s state championship game. Desert Ridge possess much the same, yet because of a little-used passing game and wonderment about the competition it’s faced to date, question marks still linger. The Jaguars are going to use Player of the Year candidate Taren Morrison and run right at the Pride, testing Mountain Pointe’s willingness to be physical and disciplined on every snap the entire game. Miss one, and Morrison is gone; the big plays are how Desert Ridge has broken the big-school, single-season rushing record. The difference here being Mountain Pointe’s defense is about as good as Desert Ridge has seen this year, and the Pride’s balance on offense tips the scales ever so slightly. As with all games, coaching at this level is pretty much a wash because how good they are with game plans and adjustments. If rain is a factor, Desert Ridge might gain an advantage on a slow, wet field. If not, it’s hard to go against the grain, even if it’ll be a tremendous game.
Prediction: Mountain Pointe 24, Desert Ridge 21
No. 3 Hamilton vs. No. 2 Chandler (Div. I)
No. 3 Hamilton vs. No. 2 Chandler (at Highland H.S.): This could be every bit as scintillating as Mountain Pointe-Desert Ridge, a combination of Div. I semifinal games which have the makings of being the best we’ve seen in years. The monkey off Chandler’s back is palpable after beating Hamilton earlier in the regular season, and the Wolves have been as unstoppable as Mountain Pointe and Desert Ridge the past six weeks (basically since the Wolves were hammered by Mountain Pointe early in the season). Hamilton, however, is healthy, and the defense and running game the Huskies use to keep the ball away from the opposition was back in form against Pinnacle in last week’s quarterfinals win. Chandler’s defense has held its own better than any Wolves’ version in recent years, but a potentially soggy or sloppy field might favor the Huskies if rain comes into play. There are plenty of reasons why Chandler should and deserves to win this game, but there are plenty of reasons why it’s difficult to see Hamilton losing twice to the same team in the same season. Whichever teams blinks first (ie. turnovers) will fall, and Hamilton’s defense is going to come out firing.
Prediction: Hamilton 24, Chandler 22
No. 3 Chaparral vs. No. 2 Mesquite (Div. II)
No. 3 Chaparral vs. No. 2 Mesquite (at Gilbert H.S.): The storybook season for Mesquite continues, thanks to a wild gut-check victory last week against a Campo Verde team which deserves plenty of credit for coming back and forcing overtime after a terrible first half. Still, Mesquite made a couple plays and found a way to win, the kind of toughness and resiliency which has defined the Wildcats this season under coach Jim Jones. Chaparral, however, is a different animal. The Firebirds’ skill position players could be the best Mesquite’s stingy defense has seen this season, and the Chaparral defense – in particular the front seven – are fast, physical and playing as well as they have all season (as Marcos de Niza can attest to). Once again, a potentially wet, sloppy field plays into Mesquite’s hands, but outside that, it’s going to be tough sledding for Mesquite’s offense to consistently move the ball on Chaparral (even though the offensive line is a Mesquite strength). The Wildcats want to plod and slow this game down to a crawl as much as possible, there’s no chance they win a shootout. Chaparral, however, is the most capable team Mesquite has played, of not allowing that to happen.
Prediction: Chaparral 24, Mesquite 17
No. 4 Queen Creek vs. No. 1 Williams Field (Div. III)
No. 4 Queen Creek vs. No. 1 Williams Field (at Campo Verde H.S.): The rivalry is rapidly blooming between these Southeast Valley schools with plenty of wins under its respective belts. After losing out to the Bulldogs in the two previous matchups in its short existence, Williams Field won big in mid-October. The Black Hawks dominated Queen Creek from start to finish, and while the Bulldogs were missing some key people with injuries, Williams Field looked the part of a championship-caliber team. The big keys this time are that Queen Creek is healthier (defensively and RB Weston Barlow) and Williams Field is navigating these playoffs without starting QB Jeddediah Fagg (broken collarbone) a team leader who was having a terrific season in relative anonymity. The passing game hasn’t been quite the same, and while Queen Creek wants to make Williams Field and Cole Patterson throw the ball around to try and beat them, the Black Hawks are still capable of mixing up their offense with Jacob Anderson and Forsgren in other ways. Williams Field’s defense has been solid all season, and while Queen Creek is rounding into form during these playoffs, do the defending-champions have enough turnovers in them to force and runs to break out with Barlow to get back there again?
Prediction: Williams Field 24, Queen Creek 20
No. 3 Desert Edge vs. No. 2 Saguaro (Div. III)
No. 3 Desert Edge vs. No. 2 Saguaro (at Arcadia H.S.): The Division I games are rightfully getting the attention, but this Div. III matchup could wind up being the best game outside the biggest classification, a high-speed track meet and a blur of touchdowns and big plays. If it’s raining, however, it could wind up being the sloppiest. It’s too early to say a rivalry is developing here since Goodyear Desert Edge’s 38-35 nail-biter of a win over Saguaro in last year’s state quarterfinals was the only meeting between these schools, but for entertainment value and competitiveness it’ll be a dandy. This is shaping up to be a last-team-with-possession-standing affair. Saguaro has Luke Rubenzer, Christian Kirk and J.T. Nettleton leading the way on both sides of the ball. Desert Edge has Anthony Hernandez (a whopping 55 TD passes), freshman Roshaun Johnson and Elijah Marks and Ismael Murphy-Richardson, a pair of kids every bit as dynamic as Saguaro’s with unfinished business after losing to Queen Creek in last year’s Div. III title game. Desert Edge is going to score, that’s a given. But one of the questions surrounding the Scorpions is even though several kids are back from last year’s team, this year’s group didn’t play a difficult regular season schedule (10-0 and yet No. 3 in the final regular season power rankings) and hasn’t seen an elite Div. III team in the postseason until now. Advantage: Saguaro. How much that will matter given the talent and speed of these two teams on the field is questionable, but it’s worth wondering if Desert Edge can withstand a Saguaro flurry or be pushed around and respond as the Sabercats have done a few times this season.
Prediction: Saguaro 42, Desert Edge 35
No. 6 River Valley vs. No. 2 Seton Catholic
No. 6 River Valley vs. No. 2 Seton Catholic (Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. at North Canyon H.S.): So much for the theory that Seton Catholic wouldn’t be good enough to contend and potentially repeat as Div. IV state champions after the mass graduations from the 2012 title team. The Sentinels sustained their share of injuries, but a team coach Rex Bowser thought might have been a year away has gradually (though not easily) improved and learned to play at a varsity level. The Sentinels are coming off a tense quarterfinals win against Winslow, in which the defense hung on late even after allowing 315 yards rushing and three touchdowns to bulldozing RB Kelly Wood. River Valley knocked off Snowflake, 28-14 (it was the closest game River Valley has played in since Week 3), so the Sentinels won’t get another crack at Snowflake after Seton lost to them, 28-23, at home in mid-September during a penalty-marred affair. River Valley is a bit of an unknown coming from the Mohave Valley, but they’re good and have been almost all season (its only loss was 21-17 to Div. V powerhouse Yuma Catholic). The question of course, when facing Seton Catholic, is whether a team can stop the Sentinels’ spread-you-out offense. Conversely, Seton is going to get another dose of ground-and-pound with River Valley RB Brandon Long (212 yards last week vs. Snowflake). The Sentinels are extremely small in size defensively (their biggest player is 185 pounds), so they’ll have to be quicker and better tacklers than last week. Stopping Seton, however, could be the bigger problem for River Valley.
Prediction: Seton Catholic 24, River Valley 20