Now that we’ve hit Week 8 of the high school football season, the pretenders have been sorted out from the contenders and those left are beginning their push to the state playoffs.
Four of those teams, all ranked sixth or higher in their divisions, meet tonight in what should be evenly-contested games, with lots of scoring to keep the fans interested.
In 5A… a non-region game pits Mountain Ridge HS in Glendale, the No. 2 team in 5A-I against the No. 5 team in 5A-II, Sandra Day O’Connor HS in Phoenix. O’Connor is one of the few big-school teams that are still undefeated; Mountain Ridge comes into the game sporting a 5-1 mark.
Ridge is coming off a 35-23 win over Deer Valley HS last week, in a rivalry game for the teams who both play on the west side of the Valley. But the Mountain Lions had to score four touchdowns in the second half to avoid an upset in that Northwest Region game. And the defense took over in the second half as well, forcing two Deer Valley fumbles and pulling down an interception.
Senior quarterback Hunter Young went 21-for-26 for 229 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Mountain Lions, while his running back, P.J. Sparks, and the senior wide receiver, Joshua Skadeland, each had two TDs.
O’Connor is coming off the momentum of a very successful 2009 season when they got off to a slow start but won seven of their final eight games to earn the region crown, and are rolling into 2010 with a 6-0 start. They defeated Boulder Creek HS in Anthem last week, 28-16.
The Eagles can score points behind quarterback Cougar Beaubien, but count heavily on a defense that has allowed just over 12 points a game so far. The 16 points scored by Boulder Creek is the most they’ve allowed.
In 4A… two 4A-I teams lock horns, with No. 6 Saguaro HS in Scottsdale traveling to Cactus Shadows HS in Cave Creek, where the No. 4 Falcons will try to avoid the embarrassment of a loss at their Homecoming game.
Saguaro (4-2) was in a similar situation last week when they played on their senior night, but rolled to a 63-7 rout of Moon Valley HS behind dual-threat quarterback Teddy Ruben and the prolific slot back, D.J. Foster, who has piled up 14 touchdowns so far. Ruben is averaging 200 yards in the air and 152 more rushing.
There shouldn’t be anything lopsided about the game this week. Cactus Shadows is 5-1 and riding high after a come-from-behind win against Apache Junction HS. The Falcons used a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore QB Bryce Kinsler to his favorite target on the night, Joree Schneider, in the last four minutes of the game to overcome a 20-10 Prospectors’ lead.
Schneider finished with 191 yards on 10 catches, but wasn’t Kinsler’s only option. His other receiver, John Leonard, contributed another 119 yards on nine catches. Kinsler put up some great numbers, too, completing 24-of-35 for 388 yards.
As a team, the Falcons are averaging over 300 yards passing per game.
Canyon del Oro HS in the Tucson area came into the season as the favorite to repeat as 4A-I state champions, and Saguaro was looked upon as the most likely threat to unseat the Dorados. But here we are in mid-October and Cactus Shadows comes into the match-up with Saguaro ranked higher and carrying a better record.
But, to be fair, Saguaro’s two losses came to Canyon del Oro and a good 4A-II Cactus HS team (Glendale), which is 5-1, and both were decided in the final seconds of each game.
And Saguaro has some added incentives in this game.
Cactus Shadows won last year’s meeting with Saguaro when the Falcons blocked an extra-point try to win 21-20. The Sabercats want to avenge that loss.
And this game represents an opportunity to avoid a three-loss season for Saguaro, which would be the first in five years.
So, both games have a lot riding on the outcomes. And that generally results in some great football.