The ESPN sports network brought its cameras to Arizona Friday night to share a much-hyped high school football game with a national audience.
But now they have to be questioning the wisdom of that decision.
The marquee match-up of two of the state’s top-ranked teams, No. 2 Hamilton High School and No. 3 Saguaro High, turned out to be an exhibition of defensive dominance and little of the explosive scoring that fans tune in to watch.
Add to that a somewhat sloppy game that was full of miscues, despite both teams having a couple of games under their belts. The match-up between state powers on ESPN2 was marred by a combined total of 23 penalties. Not a pretty sight.
Also something the ESPN folks hadn’t expected from two undefeated teams.
A total of 20 points were put on the board, with Scottsdale’s Saguaro, which has used a high-powered offense to win six state titles in the last seven years, having to rely on its special teams to put up its only score in the 13-7 Huskies’ victory.
Saguaro (2-1) scored first when junior Javen Jacobs returned a punt for 50 yards in the first quarter to put the Sabercats up 7-0. Hamilton answered with a TD midway through the second quarter when quarterback Nicco Marchiol carried the ball in from eight yards out.
Chandler’s Huskies (3-0) took a 10-7 lead into the locker room when Cole Martin contributed a 75-yard punt return to set up a field goal by Jacob Medina in the final minute of the half. The sophomore kicker added another FG late in the third quarter to close out the scoring for the game.
Marchiol was a huge addition to the Huskies’ program when he transferred in from Colorado last spring. Last season, at Regis Jesuit, he threw for 2,552 yards and 27 touchdowns, and added another 300 yards rushing.
He finished against Hamilton with 68 yards passing and 38 yards rushing.
Now the 6’3″ dual-threat QB is ranked as the No.1 overall junior prospect in Arizona and a primary reason Hamilton is expected to challenge No. 1 Chandler High for this year’s Open Division state title. Last year, the Huskies were eliminated in the semifinals of the Open Division playoffs by Saguaro.
Saguaro, which went on to lose to Chandler in the championship game, is also projected to be a title contender again this season. They have an offense that can put a lot of points on the board, despite sputtering against Hamilton in Friday’s game, and also boast one of the best defenses in the state.
It should be noted that Saguaro was playing short-handed against the Huskies. Denzel Burke, a senior team captain who plays cornerback and wide receiver, was out with an injury.
The Sabercats will be an even stronger team as the season ramps up for the playoffs. Beginning next week, there will be seven players who become eligible following their transfer into the program. Most, if not all, will likely be in the starting line-up.
With Burke back on the field and the influx of talented transfers, Saguaro should be able to challenge Chandler again for the gold ball.
And Hamilton, too, is only going to get better with more games.
Which means Chandler is going to have a lot of headwind as it tries for a title repeat.