There will be some great high school football on display this weekend, as teams in the various divisions vie for state championships. But one game offers the best chance for a compelling storyline.
Cienega High School will represent southern Arizona in a Saturday evening Division II game at Sun Devil Stadium. The Bobcats, from tiny Vail outside of Tucson, will be attempting to win the school’s first state football title.
On the other side of the ball, perennial football power, Chaparral High School from Scottsdale, will be going for its third consecutive championship, and its sixth in 13 years.
More about this game later in the story. First, let’s take a look at why there will be far less suspense in the other divisional games.
In Division I… Hamilton High will try to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 54 games and bring home to Chandler a seventh state title in less than a decade. If they win Saturday’s afternoon contest at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, it will be the Huskies’ fourth straight.
Desert Vista High School in Phoenix will give Hamilton a test. The Thunder have averaged 45 points a game so far in the playoffs, but didn’t pull away from No. 7-seeded Basha High until the fourth quarter of their semi-final match-up.
In Division III… it’s another Scottsdale school back for a repeat. Saguaro High School is playing in its third straight state championship game and is going for its second straight trophy, and fifth in six years. It puts an offensive machine on the field that hasn’t scored fewer than 34 points in any game so far in the playoffs.
The Sabercats will be taking on Glendale’s Cactus High School, which has won two of its own titles in recent years, in a Saturday evening game in the Walkup Skydome at NAU. It is outscoring playoff opponents, 118-13.
With that said, it should be remembered that Saguaro scored 62 points against the Cobras earlier in the season.
In Division IV… it’s the perennial match-up between the rulers of the high country, Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside and neighboring Show Low High School.
They also went head-to-head last year for the title, with Show Low pulling off a 41-21 upset of the favored Yellow Jackets. Earlier this year, Blue Ridge exacted revenge in an uncharacteristically low-scoring 10-9 win.
Show Low just needed to take out No. 7 Florence in the semis to earn the right to meet Blue Ridge again in the championship. They handled that chore easily, piling up 275 yards rushing for a 31-14 win.
But it won’t be that easy against Blue Ridge, which rolled over previously unbeaten Seton Catholic, 45-14. Expect more of the same when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon in the Skydome.
It’s always a big rivalry game when the two schools meet. But it’s beginning to feel like the same ol’ thing again.
In Division V… No. 1 Northwest Christian should bring home its second straight title when it meets No. 2 Yuma Catholic in the morning game in the Skydome. But Yuma, which scored 140 points in its first three playoff games, will make the Crusaders work for the title.
Casey Jahn, the Crusaders’ running back who leads the state in career rushing yards, will likely make sure Northwest Christian tops off an unbeaten season.
But back to Division II and the potential feel-good story of Cienega’s quest for its first-ever state championship…
To heighten the suspense for the big game with Chaparral, you just have to remember that the Bobcats made it all the way to the semi-finals last year before losing to Canyon del Oro. CDO running back Ka’Deem Carey, who is now toting the football for the University of Arizona, tied the state touchdown record in that game.
And this year they’ve had to scratch their way to the title game, beating No. 7 Marcos de Niza High School by one point in the quarter-finals and No.6 Ironwood Ridge High School by three points in the semi.
Cienega will take a balanced attack into Saturday’s game, but will rely heavily on their durable running back, Manny Vera, and the arm of QB Michael Archie, who put up 172 yards in the air to beat Ironwood Ridge. Vera has piled up 2,006 rushing yards this season.
But scoring points won’t be enough to win this one. The Bobcats will need a way to slow down the Firebirds’ widely-recruited senior running back, Davonte’ Neal, who just passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season and averages 12 yards a carry.
And then there’s the senior quarterback, Connor Brewer,who threw for 184 yards to help Chaparral pull out a squeaker of a win in the semi-finals. The Firebirds held off Centennial High for a 31-30 victory and a chance to win their third straight title. Brewer completes 62 percent of his passes and has piled up 2,844 yards this season.
But the most important stat from the semi-final win might be the score. Chaparral outscored their first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 113-7 and looked invincible – but that was before Centennial came within one point of a huge upset.
And don’t think Cienega didn’t notice. That may be the psychological edge they need going into Saturday.