Who are these guys?
Apparently, introductions are in order here, because while everyone knows about the 0-fer teams (Hamilton and Chaparral), the list of schools most likely to be 2-0 heading into September didn’t include Highland or Tempe.
Tempe is the more feel-good story here, so let’s start with the Buffaloes.
Tempe High won the state championship in 1996 under coach Tim McBurney. Since then ... not much. The 2000s have been ripe with coaching changes, competitive struggles, sagging participation numbers and kids who, frankly, have far more real life problems than making it to weight training class or memorizing a playbook.
Brian Walker’s disciplined style didn’t work well
Until 2012, Tempe’s previous 2-0 start to a season came in 2008, also the last time the Buffaloes went to the playoffs. The 2004 team was the last to finish with a winning record after it started 5-0 but finished 6-4 overall.
Brian Walker’s first three seasons as coach yielded a 4-26 overall record, and the 2012 team went through rough patches this offseason, having to do and nothing to do with football.
The return of McBurney as offensive coordinator last year after successes at Basha was a big help. So, too, are kids like Emanuel Gant and Sebastian Watkins for coming to, and staying at the school.
So forgive the Buffaloes if they’re talking playoffs and riding high. After a couple late defensive stops in the 28-27 victory against Poston Butte on Friday night, the northwest corner of Mill and Broadway should be busting with giddiness.
Yes, McClintock isn’t very good. Yes, Poston Butte had nearly 150 yards in penalties. But Friday night’s win solidified Tempe as a playoff contender moving forward (imagine if they beat Saguaro next Friday night) and Walker’s team dare not apologize or feel the need to qualify anything they’ve accomplished to end August, even if they don’t win another game. If they stay healthy and focused, they will.
Outside of win-loss record and a few off-the-field problems, you can make the same parallels with Highland. The Hawks schedule is going to get significantly more difficult in stretches, but a 2-0 start with impressive wins against its intra-Gilbert rivals to start the season should be a big deal.
The Hawks were in midst of an 0-5 start at this time last year, lost a couple kids in the offseason, were knicked up before the season started and beat up Gilbert without three defensive starters.
Even the era of futility runs parallel: Though the Hawks have been to the playoffs, the last time Highland was 2-0? 2005.
Yes, Mesquite is down and Gilbert is rebuilding. Yes, Desert Ridge and Basha are looming on Highland’s schedule.
Again, so what?
Parts of Chandler and Scottsdale are uncharacteristically dazed and confused to begin September, root for the new guys at this early party of the undefeateds.
Smiles are finally surfacing at some previously-sullen schools for a change.
Phoenix College will be a QB quad on Friday night as No. 1 Brophy tangles with surging Red Mountain. Brophy’s Tyler Bruggman hasn’t put up huge numbers but the Washington State-commit remains one of the best in the state, and Red Mountain’s Mason Thorman set a couple career passing records last week. He’s off to a hot start as well. The Broncos went 2-1 during their stretch of three games in 10 days, while Red Mountain’s passing game has yet to be defended. Lest we forget a couple of physical defenses will have to somehow contain one another’s multitude of offensive weapons.
Whether’s it’s No. 1, 1A or 1B to Brophy-Red Mountain, the Ahwatukee Bowl between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe could be historically good this year. Both schools are undefeated and loaded with talent. An already big-time rivalry game might get bigger. Get to Desert Vista really early on Friday. This could be epic.
Highland will learn a lot about itself and this fast start to the season when the Hawks deal with Desert Ridge’s prolific offense, led by Tarek Morrison and JJ Husar. Higley and Poston Butte will try and bounce back from tough losses. Tempe is a feel-good story to start the season, can the Buffaloes continue this by slowing down Saguaro? Seton Catholic and Tempe Prep will tussle, and Northwest Christian and Scottsdale Christian meet in a matchup of top-5 teams in Division V.
Running Quarterbacks: Marcos de Niza’s Josh Eckley beat Chaparral with an 11-yard sprint on the final play of the game. Luke Rubenzer’s 151 yards and two touchdowns rushing was one-third of his individual total offense for the night. Tarek Morrison ran for 172 yards for Desert Ridge. Blake Young went over 100 yards for Highland. We could continue, but what’s the point of handing the ball off these days?
Queen Creek: The Bulldogs better not get into the habit that scoring points will be this easy: Seven touchdowns on their first 17 plays from scrimmage against Casa Grande. That’s 523 yards of offense for the night, in which six of its TD drives took three plays or fewer and four came on the first play. We’ll add salt to Casa Grande’s wounds with four turnovers forced by Q.C. defense.
QB controversies: Three schools could be broiled in this stuff — Hamilton, Mountain View and Chaparral — might have tough decisions to make going forward after both offenses struggled with the starters the first two weeks. Both made changes (whether temporary or not) during their losses on Friday night. If it happens, it’s one of the most awkward, potentially unpleasant situations for everyone involved at the high school level for players and coaches, and who’da thunk those schools would be the ones to shake things up this early?
Mountain Ridge: Granted, Basha has more speed and talent than the Mountain Lions, especially at the skill positions (running back could be a draw). But the Bears committed five turnovers and 80 yards in penalties, and still won by 10 points. Part of that is Basha’s talent and Dalton Krum heroics on defense (two interceptions including a 70-yard return for TD), and the Bears know that’ll never fly again moving forward. If five extra possessions and a few other stalled drives by the other team’s mistakes isn’t enough ...
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.