Another high school football regular season is in the books. Some teams are preparing for the state tournaments, which begin Friday for the 2A through 6A conferences. Other teams are left with unfulfilled dreams, resigned to begin thinking about next season.
As we get ready for the playoffs, the winners and losers from the regular season are pretty easy to spot:
The high achievers…include some high-profile programs and some that aren’t used to being in the spotlight. Sitting at the top of the list should be the new Casteel High School in Queen Creek, which just finished its first varsity season by racking up a 9-1 record. Its only loss came at mid-season against Yuma Catholic following a 5-0 start. The Colts. playing in 3A this year, averaged 442 yards of offense and 50 points a game, but were held to just a single score against Yuma Catholic in the 33-7 loss. The bad news for Colts fans: Casteel opens the playoffs Saturday against…yep, Yuma Catholic.
Verrado High finished with four losses, but made up for those mistakes with a huge upset win over Desert Edge High School in the final game. The Vipers held Desert Edge, the top-ranked team in the 5A Conference, to a 3-3 tie for the first four quarters and then held on through the first overtime before sending in Jose Gonzales in the second OT to kick a field goal for the 6-3 win. It was the first time in eight meetings with Desert Edge that Verrado was able to come away on top.
However… Desert Edge won’t have to wait long to avenge the loss. The two teams meet in the first round Friday, with Desert Edge seeded No. 4 and Verrado No. 13.
Williams Field High School left nothing on the table this season. The Black Hawks, ranked No. 3 in 3A, beat No. 4 Queen Creek High in its final game to post an undefeated 10-0 season and claim the San Tan Region title. That 16-9 victory over Queen Creek earned the Black Hawks a No. 2 seed in the state tourney and will play No. 15 Chaparral High in the opener.
And then there was the coach that has to get a mention in this category. Paul Moro will enter the 4A playoffs as the winningest coach in Arizona prep football history. Moro, who took over the Marcos de Niza football program this year, notched his 332nd career win with a season-ending 48-21 victory over Seton Catholic, passing coaching legend Vern Friedli on the all-time list. Moro’s Padres compiled a 7-3 record to earn a No. 5 seed in the 4A playoffs and will meet No. 12 Buckeye Union in the first round.
The Comeback Award… will be shared by Centennial High School and Cesar Chavez High. Centennial lost its first game on the schedule, but shook off the two-point loss to Desert Edge and went on to run the table with nine straight wins. A swarming defense has come together at the right time, holding the last five opponents to a combined 14 points and shutting out threee of those teams. The Coyotes’ defense averages 40 tackles and two sacks per game.
Cesar Chavez suffered through four losses to start the season, but came back to run undefeated through its five division games. But that win streak will be tested Friday night when the No. 16 Champions take on No. 1 Mountain Pointe High, the team generally favored to win the title this year.
The Heartbreak Award…goes to Desert Edge. That three-point loss to Verrado last Thursday was its last regular-season game – and its first and only defeat of the 2016 season. A double-overtime loss decided by a single kick… They were that close to a perfect season.
The biggest loser…has to be Notre Dame Prep. The Catholic school in north Scottsdale has worked its way to a first-place finish in the Northeast Valley region of the 5A conference – but has been ruled ineligible to play in the state tournament. The penalty was handed down by the Arizona Interscholastic Association after it was discovered the Saints had held a summer football “class” that included the use of pads and helmets, a violation of the AIA by-laws (see 10/18/16 Phxfan article). The Saints finished the regular schedule 8-2.