Hamilton football team hits Ireland as ‘just another team’

It’s safe to say that the good folks in Ireland aren’t getting quite what they were expecting when Chandler’s Hamilton High School arrived this week in Dublin to take on another United States prep team on Friday.

When the game with Notre Dame High School (California) was set up , the Huskies were riding a winning streak that made them seem almost invincible, eventually ending at 53 straight games.   And they were ranked among the best prep programs in the country.

That aura came to a crashing end when Hamilton was humbled in a three-touchdown loss to Desert Vista High School (Phoenix) in the Division I state title game.  And Mountain Pointe High School, also a Phoenix school, tacked on a second straight loss last week by beating the Huskies in the season opener.

So now the Global Ireland Football Tournament gets an 0-1 team with two consecutive losses – and no national ranking.

The event, organized by Global Football, includes a dozen high-school and college teams from this country.  The Texas-based company planned the smorgasbord of games between American teams as a prelude to the Emerald Isle Classic, a much-publicized college contest to be played in Ireland on Saturday between Notre Dame University and Navy.

Venues in Dublin and Navan, County Meath, which are normally used for hurling, rugby, and Gaelic football, will be used for the six games Friday.

Hamilton came into the season ranked as just the third-best team in Division I – a sign of the Huskies’ perceived vulnerability for the first time in years.  They have a senior quarterback, Allen Thigpen III, who has the maturity, but not the experience; he had no varsity starts before entering the opener.

But the huge offensive line from last year has survived graduation pretty well intact, and the defense is one of the fastest in recent years.

In all fairness, Hamilton could be heading into Dublin with a 1-0 mark and ready to start another long run of wins.  It was a 22-yard field goal by Ryan Sheehan with just three ticks left on the game clock that made the difference between an undefeated record and a winless record.

And if Thigpen hadn’t fumbled away the ball inside the Pride’s 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter, the outcome might also have been different.

But it was more appropriately Hamilton’s inability to close the deal that really spelled their defeat.  The Huskies led 14-7 at the half and carried that lead into the fourth quarter – but then let the Pride score 10 points in the final three minutes as the win slipped away in front of their stunned fans.

The Hamilton of years past wouldn’t have let Mountain Pointe back up off the turf and would have closed it out going down the home stretch.  But this team didn’t do that – and that could be a big problem against Notre Dame on Friday.

The Sherman Oaks program has been a powerhouse for the past two decades and, during that time, has won 14 league championships and four state titles.

On paper, it’s a good match-up since Hamilton boasts three consecutive state titles from 2008-2010 and was the state championship runner-up last year.  The Huskies dominated their region, winning 11 championships over 12 years, and reached the top 10 in national rankings.

But above all else, it’s an amazing opportunity for a high school team.

“We have been overwhelmed by their passion for our game and their willingness to embrace this venture,” said Global Football’s president, Patrick Steenberge, in describing how the people of Ireland have welcomed the event.

“For most teams, this will be their big season-opening game and, for some, their second of the new campaign.  And, while they are excited to be visiting Ireland, make no mistake – they are here to win.”

And make no mistake…Hamilton needs this win.  The loss to Mountain Pointe that made it two in a row marked the first time in the history of the program that the Huskies lost two straight.

A third would be a hard pill to swallow for a proud program.

(Photo: Notre Dame High School)