The two big re-matches in Arizona high school football, expected to take place in season-ending state championship games, are now down to just one.
Players – and their fans – have been looking forward to a Hamilton HS vs. Chandler HS finale in 5A-I and a re-match between Blue Ridge HS and Show Low HS in 3A.
But the suspense isn’t playing out as scripted.
The first meeting between Blue Ridge and Show Low four weeks ago was between two unbeaten teams, a huge rivalry that included hard feelings arising from accusations of recruiting violations. It was considered by many to be perhaps the biggest game in the history of the rivalry and one of the tops in Arizona small-school football. Blue Ridge won that game before an overflow crowd, 36-18.
The Hamilton-Chandler game was so big it was televised nationally on ESPN2 and drew a college-like crowd at the game that was estimated at 9,000. Top-ranked and unbeaten Hamilton won that game against No. 2 Chandler, 38-20.
But Chandler won’t be going to the championship game for another shot at the Huskies. They were upset last week in the first round of the playoffs by a Desert Ridge HS team that piled up 462 yards of offense and came from behind to squeek out a 38-35 win. Junior running back, Joey Counts, fueled the win with 213 yards rushing and QB Jordan Becerra ran for another 139 yards.
Now Hamilton, which rolled over No. 16 seed Westwood, 62-6, last week will square off next in a Dec. 4 game against No. 8 Mesquite HS, a 49-7 winner over North Canyon HS.
From the looks of things in the first round, Hamilton isn’t yet feeling the effects of being without perhaps their best player in offensive tackle, Christian Westerman, the anchor for the Huskies’ huge line. Westerman, a 6’5″, 295 lb. five-star recruit who signed with the University of Texas, may be out for the entire playoffs after suffering small fractures in his knee during practice 10 days ago.
But for a team that hasn’t lost in the last 36 games, the Huskies may not need Westerman to get the job done this year. They’ve been one of the two teams involved in the state title game seven times in the last 10 years, and this year likely won’t be any different.
But the good news for high school football fans up in the high country of the White Mountains is that Blue Ridge and Show Low are still alive and working toward a re-match in the 3A championship game.
However, both have to get past some really good teams in tonight’s semifinals to get there.
Blue Ridge, still unbeaten at 11-0, takes on Florence HS, a 12-1 team that is averaging 42 points a game – almost a mirror image to Ridge’s 43.5 points per outing. Both teams rely heavily on the run, with Florence’s offense averaging nearly 400 yards a game, 265 yards of that on the ground. Ridge is even more oriented to the run, with rushing accounting for 333 of its 419 yards total per game.
A trio of senior ball-carriers account for most of the output for Blue Ridge. Chayse Russell is leading the charge, averaging 10 yards a carry; Jordan Morgan, who splits time at QB, has collected 10 touchdowns on the ground; and Alex Stebbins is producing at a clip of seven yards a carry.
Florence relies on its senior running back, Kyle Washington, to get the job done – in a lot of ways. Washington has accounted for 11 touchdowns on the ground and another 10 in the air. Together, it adds up to 1,429 all-purpose yards this season. He also returns punts, kickoffs, and has even thrown a few passes to keep the other team off-balance… and is a force on defense.
Senior QB Hulsey Jace isn’t the offensive weapon that Washington is, but he’s throwing for 142 yards per game.
On the other side of the playoffs bracket, Show Low will try to contain the balanced attack of Snowflake HS, which is averaging 336 yards and 31 points a game.
The Lobos are 9-2, thanks to a three-pronged attack that includes senior quarterback, Trevor Reddick, who has 1,149 passing yards this season. And he’s supported in the backfield by senior Ammon McKinlay and junior Tyler Johnson, who have combined for 1,654 yards rushing.
But Show Low will continue to ride the strong arm of its record-setting senior quarterback, Rathen Ricedorff, who is coming off an eight-touchdown performance in a 62-42 rout of Winslow HS in the quarterfinal game. Ricedorff, who is averaging 333 yards a game in the air, needs just two more scoring passes to reach 50 and claim a new single-season state record.
He threw for “just” 168 yards in the earlier meeting with Blue Ridge, and tossed a couple of second-half interceptions. He is probably anxious to get back on the field against their White Mountain rival in a championship game.
But first he has to take care of business tonight – and hope that Blue Ridge does the same.