Big start to 2014 HS football season: Chaparral vs. Saguaro

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                </div>  Brophy Prep will play what is arguably the biggest high school football game of the 2014 season tomorrow when the small Catholic school in Phoenix takes on Nevada’s Bishop […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Brophy Prep will play what is arguably the biggest high school football game of the 2014 season tomorrow when the small Catholic school in Phoenix takes on Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High, recently ranked by USA Today as the No. 1 prep team in the nation.  The Broncos will join Division I defending state champion Mountain Pointe High School in the annual Sollenberger Kick-off Classic, which matches up two top teams from Arizona and Nevada.

It will become an even bigger event should Brophy upset Gorman, which is on a quest to capture its sixth straight Nevada big-school state title.

But the Sollenberger will be played in Nevada this year.

So that shifts the attention for the season opener to Scottsdale, where Chaparral High will meet intra-city rival Saguaro High for each team’s first game of the season next Friday.  Just one more week of practice to complete the final tweaking to the offenses and defenses, and then get the players up mentally for the game.

That last part shouldn’t be too difficult since this is considered one of the biggest rivalries in the state between two of the state’s top teams, and both teams have had the date circled on their calendars since spring practice got underway months ago.

And all the players – on both teams – are aware that this season’s match-up will likely be different than those in recent years when Chaparral has dominated the rivalry.  The Firebirds won last year by 30 points, the year before by 18 points in a game that was decided by halftime, and in 2011 lost in a 65-0 rout.

That game three years ago really added fuel to the rivalry fires because Saguaro’s head coach at the time, John Sanders, decided to rest his best players and avoid any injuries since it was the final game of the regular season and he wanted to be ready for the playoffs.  At the time, fans were expecting one of the biggest games in recent memory because Chaparral was the No. 1-ranked team in Division II and Saguaro was No. 1 in Division III.

That much-criticized decision by Sanders led to his firing in the off-season.

Saguaro is a proud program.  Losing year after year to the school that sits just a few miles down the road is beyond frustrating.  The Sabercats have won six state championships in the last eight years, three in a row from 2006-2008.  They won a title in 2011, made it to the championship game the next year, and notched another title last season.

But during those last three years, despite all the success in their own division, they haven’t been able to solve Chaparral.  This year they arrive at the opener with a roster that is both deep and solid at the skill positions.  Five players on this year’s roster already have scholarship offers from D-I schools.

The Firebirds have their own stack of state championships.  They have played in five of the last six Division II title games and also won three championships in a row, from 2009-2011.  Last year they made it again to the championship game before losing to Tucson powerhouse Salpointe Catholic.

However, this year’s team has to replace almost its entire offensive unit, with the exception of quarterback Sean Paul Brophy and tackle Keenan Walker, perhaps the state’s best high-school offensive lineman who has committed to play next year for Rich Rodriguez in Tucson.

Walker will be the anchor for an otherwise young offensive line.  But this year it will have to give up size along the line to Saguaro, which includes the likes of 6’3″, 305-pound right tacke Kayden Lyles, who started 13 games last season as a freshman and will undoubtedly be one of the top prospects in the country by the time he hits his senior year.

While the line play will be a significant factor in next Friday’s outcome, most of the focus will be on the passing game.  Chaparral will have its top receiver back from the 2013 squad.  Christian Skeptaris is primarily a tight end, but he led the team with 10 catches last year as a sophomore and is expected to do even more as he moves into his upper-classman role.

Saguaro, of course, will depend heavily on its top-rated college prospect, wide receiver Christian Kirk.  The senior, who is ranked as the 39th player in the country by 247Sports.com, is coming off a performance last year that included 65 catches for 1,183 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air.  He is sitting on a pile of more than three dozen college scholarship offers, but hasn’t made his commitment yet.

This should be a fun season for fans of both teams because these offenses should light up the scoreboard. Chaparral’s offense is being directed by former Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter and Saguaro’s offensive coordinator in another Sun Devil QB, Sam Keller, who also put in a few years in the NFL and brings that experience to a coaching staff loaded with former college players.  Both have installed high-octane offenses with lots of different looks and different schemes.

But the margin of success in next week’s game between these two top programs may come down to defense. Chaparral has had to replace most of its secondary,with the exception of Robbie Kleifield at linebacker and strong safety Kurt Shughart.

Chaparral may still have a slight edge this year.  But this game should be much closer than anything in recent years.

A great way to start a new season.