Mismatches begin under new AIA football re-alignment

Size does matter.  But it doesn’t always determine the outcome in athletic competition.

And that includes high school football.

Thanks to the re-alignment implemented by the Arizona Interscholastic Association last year, there will be more opportunities to test the theory as the season progresses.  Computerized scheduling now matches schools up according to geographic proximity, rather than enrollment size, in an effort to minimize travel and save money.

Last week offered a good example of how the new system is creating mismatches.  But we also found out that size isn’t always the determining factor in who wins the games.

Cortez High School, a school with an enrollment over 1,000 strong, stepped on the field with the much-smaller Arizona Lutheran Academy, which stuggles to reach the 200-student mark.

Arizona Lutheran coasted to a 66-16 win.

You have to look below the surface of the score to understand why the smaller school was able to turn the tables on the bigger one.  The loss was the 29th straight for Cortez, which is accustomed to losing big; last season, the west Phoenix school lost seven games by 40 or more points.

Arizona Lutheran, which is located about 15 miles down the road from its west Phoenix neighbor, made it to the 2A state quarterfinals behind a running game that featured two 1,000-yard running backs.  Ben Grams and Alfred Erives are both back this year.

It was Erives who poured it on hapless Cortez by scoring five touchdowns.

When you haven’t won a ball game since early in the 2008 schedule, it’s difficult to find students who want to participate.  Cortez’s third-year coach, Jeff Huelster, is happy just to have a solid group of 30 or 40 players committed to the program.  Arizona Lutheran, on the other hand, has fewer than 100 male students – and half of them come out for football.

Of course, more often than not, David loses to Goliath.

Tiny Scottsdale Christian Academy also assumed the ‘David’ role last week when it took on Fountain Hills High School, about three times its size with an enrollment of about 1,220.

Fountain Hills took a 24-3 lead at the half and then rolled to a 38-3 win behind its junior quarterback, Justin Steuber, who threw for two scores and added a third on the ground.  Trace Johnson, his primary receiver on the night, added the other two TDs.

SCA has been a consistent winner in recent years, posting eight wins in each of the last four seasons and advancing to the state quarterfinals the last three.  Against Fountain Hills, the Eagles were without starting quarterback, Chaz Dudley, but would still have had to find a way to keep Fountain Hills off the scoreboard.

Fountain Hills competed in 3A last year and SCA was a 2A school.  This year, Fountain Hills was put in Division IV and SCA is playing in Division V.  The playing field should be a little more level for each going forward.

But as the season progresses, the computer will continue to spit out more mismatches.  We have yet to see how Wickenburg High school, with an enrollment of 600+, will fare against Peoria High School, with 2,185 students.  Or how Antelope High in Wellton (353) fares against Buckeye High (1,297).  And the list goes on…

North Pointe Prep in Phoenix decided long before this season started that it wasn’t going to be able to compete in that environment, and would have an increased risk of injuries, so the school canceled its season.  The charter school has an enrollment of somewhere around 500, but was facing a schedule that included four schools that were three times its size – including the defending 4A-II champion, Thunderbird High.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the schedule shakes out this season, as schools enjoy the convenience of less travel – but a greater disparity in competitiveness.