Match-up of 2A football powers includes great side story


It would be hard to come up with a big high school football game featuring two high-powered teams with just one loss between them who are more evenly matched than tomorrow’s 2A conference showdown between Phoenix Christian and Scottsdale Christian Academy.

And then throw in an intriguing side story, and you have high drama ready to explode under Friday night lights.

More about that later.  First, the amazing similarity in the stats for these two teams:

Both teams have outscored their opponents this season in a totally dominating fashion.  Phoenix Christian’s scoring advantage is 487 points to its opponents’ 37.  For Scottsdale Christian, it’s 370-49.

In the case of Phoenix Christian, it has been a men-against-boys scenario; the Cougars have scored 60 or more points in six of their eight games.  And in most of those games, the game was pretty much decided by halftime, giving the players off the bench a couple of quarters of game time.

And both teams bring a balanced attack to the party.  Phoenix Christian is averaging 198 points per game passing and 283 running, while SCA throws for 194 yards each game and adds 216 rushing.

Even their key yardage producers mirror one another.  The Cougars are led by senior quarterback Hunter Cole, the coach’s son, who is averaging 194 yards per game passing for a total 1,553 yards so far, a .755 completion percentage, and 26 touchdowns.  And junior running back Malik Taylor adds another 119 yards per game, averaging 12.2 yards each time he touches the ball, for a total 951 yards.

SCA will counter with a couple of juniors who are also lighting up the scoreboard.  Quarterback Grant Schreyer throws for 194 yards per game and running back Shayne Pahnke adds another 149 on the ground.  Schreyer has a .623 completion rate for 1,744 yards and 19 touchdowns.  Pahnke has already broken the 1,000-yard plateau with 1,189 rushing yards, and has 17 TDs.

Perhaps even more interesting is what Phoenix Christian’s first-year head coach Brian Cole has brought to the program.  Cole has installed a system and a philosophy that has made his teams the envy of small-school football.

But that didn’t begin with Phoenix Christian.  And that’s the interesting part of this story.

Cole won a 5A state championship with North Canyon High School in 2005, when that team went undefeated.  Then he took over at Joy Christian High School and won five section championships in five years, made three appearances in the state title game, and won two of those.  He compiled a 53-6 record at Joy Christian, winning one of his state titles when the school was still playing 8-man football, and then another when they moved to 11-man.

The only thing that stopped that runaway train was a change in leadership at the school – actually, a constant change in leadership. When he unexpectedly resigned in May of 2016, after taking the team through spring practice, the school was on its fifth director in six years.  Cole said at the time that he “didn’t agree with the school’s vision toward athletics moving forward.”

So Cole stepped away from the game, not knowing whether he was going to get back into coaching right away.  He had two sons he had to focus on, both still working their way through high school, and needed to find a new school for them.

But the offer to take over the Phoenix Christian program was the right opportunity at the right time.  In his resignation letter to the Joy community, he quoted Ecclesiastes, chapter 3: “For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven.”  He said he felt he and his family had had their season of joy and that it was “time to move to the next season God has planned.”

He is apparently there now, and making the most of it.

Cole was on the verge of creating a small-school dynasty at Joy Christian.  Now you have to wonder if that’s in his plans for Phoenix Christian.

If so, he has made an impressive start toward that goal.