Here we are. The state championship games are finally set and while many teams have had “successful” seasons, only one in each division can raise the coveted trophy. All three games include defending champs from last year and all three of those defending champs enter as favorites. Here’s a preview of the finals and a prediction on the outcomes.
#1 Hamilton vs. #3 Desert Vista
Hamilton is still riding their 53 game winning streak and just knocked off their opponent from last years final, Desert Ridge. This would be the fourth consecutive title for Hamilton, and they seem as focused as ever on that goal. Desert Vista meanwhile has only one loss on the season, albeit to Hamilton, 35-10. They do have a punishing running game and three backs that are tough to bring down. If they can control the line of scrimmage and run as effectively as they did last week against Basha, perhaps they can keep the ball away from Hamilton’s dynamic duo of quarterback Blake Kemp and receiver Kendyl Taylor. Unfortunately for Desert Ridge, nobody has controlled the line of scrimmage against defensive tackles Jaxon Hood and Calvin Thomas. Those two present a real problem for any team trying to run between the tackles or pass inside an often collapsing pocket.
Prediction: Desert Vista plays well early and uses a few gimmick plays to put some points on the board, but Hamilton wears them out over the course of the game and Taylor will be the best player on the field. Final score, Hamilton 28 Desert Vista 13.
#1 Chaparral vs. #2 Cienega
Cienega has not lost all season, while Chaparral lost the first game of the year to Bishop Gorman, NV, snuck out with a win in week two at Salpointe Catholic and were pushed to the last possession last week against Centennial. However schedule wise, Cienega hasn’t seen anybody with as much talent as they’ll see in the finals. Davonte’ Neal has again been Mr. Everything for Chaparral, as a receiver/runner/returner/defender. If D.J. Foster of Saguaro isn’t the player of the year, it’s Mr. Neal. Also, quarterback Connor Brewer has been excellent the second half of the season and into the playoffs. Cienega has some weapons of their own and quarterback Michael Archie can make plays as well as get it into the hands of running back Manny Vera and wide receiver (and fantastically named) Edgar Poe. It’s been proven that Chaparral can be beaten, but it will take an almost perfectly played game for Cienega to win it’s first title.
Prediction: Neal matches up with Poe and eliminates his offensive presence, which really hinders Cienega’s options. Brewer and Neal are too skilled for the Cienega defense and this one gets lopsided in the second half. Final score, Chaparral 41 Cienega 17.
#5 Saguaro vs. #3 Cactus
Once again, although the seeds may show Cactus as the favorites, everyone knew this was Saguaro’s championship to lose before the playoffs started. As stated earlier, they have the potential player of the year in D.J. Foster and they know how to get him the ball often. He may be most dangerous taking the snaps directly in the wildcat formation with a run/draw option and he’s been putting up ridiculous numbers, highlighted by his 10 touchdown performance in the first round. Like Desert Vista in Division I, Cactus has only one loss this year, but it was against this Saguaro team and it wasn’t close (62-24). However, Cactus may be playing their best football right now and they did just shut down another great running back in Arcadia’s Sossaia Maafu. Also Saguaro’s defense has given up some big numbers in the playoffs and will have to stop quarterback Michael Putko, who can beat teams with his arm and with his legs.
Prediction: This one has the makings of a shootout, with both offenses seemingly better than their defensive counterparts. In the end, Saguaro is just too explosive and D.J. Foster takes over with multiple big plays. Final score, Saguaro 56 Cactus 41.
So not too bold picking all three defending champs, but they all pass the eye test and when it comes down to it, they all have championship experience and more talent than their opponents. They don’t hand out state championships on talent and experience though, so they’ll have to earn it and as Chris Berman says, “that’s why they play the game.”