Prep football: repeating state titles not so easy this year

Some new players have earned a seat at the head table this year.

There are still a couple of games left in the high school state playoffs before we can crown this year’s champions.  But one thing has already been decided…there won’t be a repeat champion in the top three divisions, as has been the case for many years.

Hamilton High School quashed those hopes in Division I by beating defending champion, Desert Vista High, 28-14, in a Friday night quarterfinal game.  In Division II, Marcos de Niza High School denied Chaparral High a fourth consecutive title in a 49-36 victory, and Desert Edge High School halted Saguaro High‘s try for a third straight title in Division III with a 38-35 comeback win.

Hamilton, the No. 3 seed, jumped out to a 14-7 halftime lead on No. 2 Desert Vista and then took advantage of three turnovers in the second half to run the lead to 28-7 after a 13-yard scoring run by Elijah Williams and a 19-yard touchdown through the air from QB AJ Thigpen to Izzy Simpson.

A Hamilton defense that contained the Desert Vista running game didn’t give up a second touchdown until just over six minutes were left to play, when Zach Gonzalez scooted in from the four-yard line to close the gap to 28-14 and conclude the scoring.

The win was particularly sweet for the Huskies, the perennial power from Chandler who lost to Desert Vista in last year’s title game.

Perhaps the biggest shuffle at the top came in Division II.  The seventh-seeded Chaparral Firebirds have ruled the roost since 2009 when they won their first of four straight titles.  Their seniors were hoping to add another championship ring to the one finger left unadorned.

Ironically, it was No. 2 Marcos de Niza that they beat in that first state championship game that started the run.

Not this time, however.  The Padres own this year’s bragging rights after beating Chaparral in the regular season, 29-27, and now again in the quarterfinals.  The first one was a thriller, as Marcos didn’t clinch the deal until a final score as time expired, and this time it was a fan’s delight as both teams displayed their offensive talents.

Marcos de Niza quarterback Josh Eckley threw for 176 yards and added 59 more on runs.  And the Firebirds’ QB, Brad Schencker piled up 263 yards through the air – despite being intercepted five times.  Dominique Fenstermacher accounted for three of those picks and Priest Willis and Josh Kirkwood added the other two.

Eckley’s favorite receiver on the night, Paul Elvira, pulled in six catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and Schencker found a big target in Jordin Hamilton, who finished the night with 157 yards on 10 catches for the Firebirds.

But the star of the night had to be Mauriece Lee, the Padres’ running back who gobbled up 324 yards enroute to scoring four touchdowns.  Two of his TDs came on runs of 80 and 48 yards.

Chaparral started the season with three losses in its first four games, but recovered by mid-season and came into the quarterfinal game on momentum built from seven straight victories.  But the Padres were on a mission this year after getting bumped in the quarterfinals the past two years.

The Firebirds took an early 10-7 lead Friday, but Marcos stormed back with 28 straight points, including 14 in the final two minutes of the first half – and never looked back after that.

In the Division III quarterfinal, there are still conflicting versions of whether there was an upset Friday night.  Undefeated Desert Edge, which one by three, was the No. 1 seed in that division and Saguaro was seeded ninth.  But because Saguaro has been a football power for so many years – this will be the first time in seven years that the Sabercats haven’t made it to at least the semifinals and went on to win five titles – there were many who thought Saguaro should be favored, despite its 8-4 record and much lower seed.

And, for at least the first half of the game, that seemed a defensible position since Saguaro took an 18-point lead into the locker room at the half – and had held the 12-0 Scorpions to just three points.

But Desert Edge came alive in the second half, scoring on its first play of the third quarter on a 56-yard pass play from Sawyer Lung to Elijah Marks.  As the final period began, the Scorpions wrested the lead from Saguaro when Kyle Woolard ran for 48 yards and a score that would make it 31-28.

A second aerial touchdown to Marks, this one for 45 yards, with under five minutes left to play turned out to be the winning margin – holding off a push by Saguaro when QB Luke Rubenzer finished a five-yard drive on the next possession by hitting Ayden Richards with a 32-yard TD pass.

When the dust cleared and the stats were totalled, it actually looked like a Sagauro win.  The Sabercats had more first downs (21-17), more yards rushing (163-125) and more yards passing (245-210).

But three fumbles – two of which were in the red zone in the fourth quarter – may have spelled the difference in the outcome.

The bottom line… Saguaro will be on the sidelines watching the rest of the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

But they’ll have company as their big rival in Scottsdale, the Firebirds, also sit this one out.  And the new head coaches for both teams (Dave Huffine, Chaparral/Jason Mohns, Saguaro) will begin figuring out what it will take to get them back to the title game next year.

In other words, it’s time to start over – and let both coaches begin building their own legacies.