ESPN in Scottsdale, but Tucson game beckons next week

ESPN is setting up in Scottsdale for tonight’s game between cross-town rivals Chaparral High and Desert Mountain High School – a meeting that has received a lot of hype this week because it will showcase some of Arizona’s most highly-recruited prep players.

But there is more local significance in a cross-state game that will be played in Tucson next week between the top-ranked teams in Division II.  Unfortunately, ESPN will have left town by then.

With all due respect to the Scottsdale schools, the game next week between Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic and Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School represents more than in-town bragging rights.  It represents the ongoing struggle by the programs on the southern side of the state to get some respect from those in the metro Phoenix area, where the nationally-ranked teams generally reside.

And Salpointe has certainly earned that respect.  Last year the Lancers went 12-2 and this season are undefeated through four games and have outscored their opponents, 190-21.  They blanked Sunnyside High, 46-0, to give that school its only loss this season, and have given up no more than one touchdown in any of the four games.

Salpointe has the week off, and the Padres should have little trouble with tonight’s opponent, Cesar Chavez High School, which will set up the meeting between two unbeaten teams

Senior leadership at the quarterback position has been the key to a Salpointe offense that scored more than 40 points in each of its victories.  Andrew Cota, who has been the starting quarterback since his freshman year, is completing 63 per cent of his passes and is throwing for an average 226 yards per game. And when he runs, he averages a little more than six yards a carry.

Cota’s favorite target is another senior, Cameron Denson, who is piling up 139.5 yards a game.

But Marcos de Niza has been an offensive juggernaut as well, averaging 63 points a game.  The Padres have their own dual threat under center in Joshua Eckley.  The 6’2″ senior is throwing for 308 yards per game and is also averaging 132 yards rushing per outing.

Add to that a wide receiver that has given Eckley a huge target.  The 6’4″ sophomore, N’Keal Harry, has 289 yards on 10 receptions.

That explains why the Marcos offense is producing almost 600 yards per game.

Combine the kind of  ‘Civil War’ drama that this game holds with the rivalry game in Scottsdale tonight between two high-profile schools that are separated by less than 10 miles and you have back-to-back weeks of TV-worthy high school football.

But first, tonight’s game in Scottsdale…

Both schools have their share of college prospects on the field, although Chaparral is playing in Division II and Desert Mountain in Division I, but it’s the top-ranked college prospects that make up Desert Mountain’s dynamic pass-catch duo that justifies the coverage on ESPNU.

At the top of that list of elite recruits is quarterback Kyle Allen, Desert Mountain’s 5-star prospect that will be playing next year for Texas A&M, and has become the likely successor to Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. On the receiving end of his passes will be another top prospect in the nation, Mark Andrews, who has committed to play for Oklahoma.

Allen has been ranked by two of the top recruiting services as the No. 1-rated QB in the country, while Andrews set a state big-school record last year with 1,494 yards in receptions.

All that attention is good for Arizona and great exposure for the players on both teams that might still be looking for college offers.  But for the pure essence of high school football, next week’s match-up between Salpointe and Marcos de Niza holds far more importance.

And, just for the record, Marcos hung 56 points on Chaparral when they beat the Firebirds in the second game of the season.

The game with Marcos de Niza just may be the most significant during the 13 years that Dennis Bene has been head coach at Salpointe. And could turn into one of the most exciting games of the season between two high-powered offenses.

Maybe ESPN should consider coming back to Arizona next week.  The college scouts will definitely be there.