The Favorite: #2 Chandler
Get this. Since the Wolves were down 42-28 to Mountain Pointe at halftime of week four of the season (the only game they would lose this season), they have outscored opponents 335 to 99, which includes that second half against the Pride. They have the best group of athletes on one team in the state being led by one of the top quarterbacks in the state in Bryce Perkins. The question is will they finally be able to put it all together in the post season for the first time in school history.
The Challenger: #1 Hamilton
Another very god run for the Huskies in 2014 which saw them end a remarkable Mountain Pointe win streak and doing so in dominating fashion back on week five. Since a frustrating night against Chandler, they have been all business in the last month of the season winning in dominating fashion over Basha, Gilbert, Highland and Perry. One of the best all-around players in this entire bracket is Kyeler Burke who is as all-purpose as it gets on the field. They get him the football anyway they can whether on the ground, through the air or on kick/punt returns. He is a difference maker and can change the landscape of a game by himself.
The Deceivers: #3 Pinnacle, #6 Mountain Pointe
The Pioneers are a James Sosinski to Kyeler Burke 4th and very long completion into field goal range away from an undefeated season. In that lone loss to Hamilton, they came back from 28 points down to take the lead late only to come up short. Looks can be deceiving with this Pinnacle team that doesn’t have a “marquee win” outside of rival Horizon. This team has fire power, this team has talent and this team has grit in the trenches from players who may or may not be household names. The key to win in college and the pros is normally with an elite quarterback in this day-in-age. Brian Lewerke has a great supporting cast around him to lead the Pioneers on a run.
The Pride are still the state champions and despite losing two of their last five games, the are still talented enough to make a run for a repeat. They have arguably the best offensive line in the state with the three headed monster running the ball in Paul Lucas, Brandyn Leonard and Tyrek Cross. If they control the line of scrimmage with the run game, they will be a tough team to keep off the field which is deflating for opposing defenses. Looks are definitely deceiving when looking at where they are seeded and despite that, they are still the ones that hold the thrown until proven otherwise.
Both these two teams have the potential of an incredible second round matchup for possibly the right to play Chandler for the state title. The bottom of this bracket is an absolute gauntlet.
The Cinderella: #12 Horizon
It will be the famous 12-5 matchup with Horizon and Desert Ridge and you can never rule out a team that has as much fire power as the Huskies do on the offensive side of the football. At times this season, they have shown they can play defense as well which will they will definitely need to do, especially in stopping the run, to defeat the Jaguars. They stumble in the playoffs being an 12 seed and two straight losses, but they can be a team that gives Hamilton at the top of the bracket a run for their money with what they can do offensively if they both were to meet up down the line. They must also be able to defend the big play. Something they could not do in their two losses this season to Pinnacle and Marcos de Niza on week 1. Quarterback Dalton Sneed is a gamer and he will not go down without a fight.
The Favorite: #3 Centennial
The Coyotes have two losses on the season but neither of them were to teams in their own division. One was to the Division I favorite, Chandler by just four. The Coyotes have one of the top all around athletes in the state in Dedrick Young wreaking havoc on both sides of the ball, one of the deepest and most talented offensive lines and a quarterback in Isaac Steele that refuses to lose football games. Until a division II team can prove they can compete with the Coyotes for four quarters, they are the team to beat.
The Challengers: #1 Liberty and #2 Ironwood Ridge
If there was one team that has proven that they can go toe-to-toe with Centennial, it’s Liberty. They have been so close the last two times they have faced off in blowing a big lead in 2013 and losing in the closing moments in 2014 in what has become one of the most heated matchups each year in the west valley. They have not yet gotten over that Centennial hump which is why I have them as the challenger and not the favorite as the number one seed. Liberty has talent and can beat you in all phases of the game and a player that seems like he plays in every phase, sometimes every position, Tyler Wyatt, is ready to put this team on his back.
After losing their first game of the year to Liberty, no one talked about Ironwood Ridge until week nine when they knocked off defending champion Salpointe to win the section title. Looks can be deceiving with this team when you see team that barely throws the football in a day-in-age where throwing the ball 50 times out of a spread formation seems to be the norm. The Knighthawks ware on you with their methodical offensive drives and their hard-nose mentality on defense. They won the state championship two years ago with a team that looked like almost a carbon copy of what they put out on the football field in 2014.
The Deceiver: #8 Paradise Valley
This is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire state no matter the division. Just one loss on the season but low points on a strength of schedule scale has them the number eight seed which is a tough draw with having to face a good Sahuaro team who just lost it’s first game of the year last week and then a date with the number one seed Liberty Lions. If there is a team that has the firepower to make it through the first two rounds, it is the Trojans with the exceptional quarterback-receiver combo in Daniel Bridge-Gadd and Jacob Brown who are both juniors. on defense, Max Vankempen has been making plays all season, which was spotlighted in their section championship winning game over Chaparral last week.
The Cinderella: #12 Marcos de Niza
Marcos historically is a higher seed and not normally a 12 seed in the tournament. Despite it being the first year under a new coaching staff and many key players transferring out of the program, the Padres still managed to put together a successful season and find themselves in position to make the famous 12 seed over five seed upset in round one against a good Deer Valley team. Sophomore quarterback Naz Greer has had a breakout season and senior linebacker Andrew Rodriguez is one of the top playmakers and leaders defensively in the state. They had a few very close losses and if they can find ways to learn from those experiences from the season, they can find themselves sticking around in the postseason longer then many would expect.
The Favorite: #1 Saguaro
The Sabercats are locked and loaded for a second consecutive state championship. No one has been able to stop Christian Kirk this season and in opposing team’s attempts to do so, Byron Murphy and Kamron Johnson have made it that much more difficult. The smallest winning margin all season for them was their 34-18 win at Queen Creek. They have scored 526 points and have given up just 107. This is one of the most dominating teams this state has ever seen.
The Challenger: #2 Williams Field
This season was an emotional roller coaster for Williams Field as they initially were forced to forfeit four games in the middle of the season for questions surrounding the eligibility of two of their players. The AIA ruled them eligible, gave them the wins back and minus a tough game against Saguaro, they have been spectacular. Running back Braedyn Bushman has been one of the most elite running backs in Arizona this season with over 2,000 yards rushing and 25 rushing touchdowns. He runs behind of of the elite offensive tackles in the state in ASU commit Cade Cote.
The Deceiver: #5 Queen Creek
After a great run of seasons with one of no losses in the regular season for the Bulldogs, how dare they lose two in one season! Truth is, QC dealt with some very tough injuries this season including their premiere running back, Weston Barlow. But Westy B is back and the Bulldogs look that take advantage of that great playoff experience they possess and eye a return to the state championship game for the third consecutive season.
The Cinderella: #6 Sunrise Mountain
The Mustangs quietly have rolled through their regular season with one loss in a year where they beat rival Cactus for the first time ever and handed an undefeated Peoria their first and only loss. They did not lose to a team all season in Division III (one loss to Deer Valley of division II) and though they have not always blown out teams like the top tier of division III seem to do almost every week, they are a team that knows its identity and has guys that can just flat play football. Quarterback Chase Cord who is just a sophomore on offense and safety Tristin Decker on defense are two of the best leaders on a given side of the ball I’ve seen in person all season. It took them a long time to beat Cactus for the first time as mentioned, now they will have to do it twice in one season to advance past the first round.
The Favorite: #1 Seton Catholic
Has there been a more dominating team in Arizona against their own division than Seton Catholic? And yes, that includes Saguaro in division III. The Sentinels who are two years removed from a state championship win over Blue Ridge are looking to make it two in three years this post season. They have allowed just 21 points since week three, have not allowed a touchdown since their october 3rd game against Cortez and have shutout six of their last seven opponents.
The Challenger: #2 Sahuarita
Quietly, the Mustangs have run the table in 2014 to an undefeated season. They have done so beating four playoff teams division IV bracket. Senior quarterback Calvin Jenkins has been a freak on the field to the Mustangs amounting for over 2,000 total years throwing and rushing with 16 throwing and six rushing touchdowns. Their defensive is also very active having forced 13 interceptions on the season.
The Deceiver: #4 Snowflake
The white mountains are normally the teams that represent the cream of the crop in division IV. Looks can be deceiving when you see down seasons for Blue Ridge and Show Low and automatically believe that Snowflake’s success is a direct reflection of that. That may have been true for two of their wins, but is not a reflection of just how good this team actually is. Their only loss this season was to undefeated Seton Catholic which just so happens to be the Sentinels smallest margin of victory this season (9). They scored 40+ points in their last six games of the season leading into the playoffs.
The Cinderella: #6 Estrella Foothills
The Wolves have three losses this season and they are to three of the top four seeds in division IV. The lost to Seton Catholic by 11, Snowflake by eight and River Valley by two. All of three of those teams basically blew out almost every other team they faced this season. EF has a lot of talent and have proven they can handle the teams they should beat and go to grips with the best. Their playmaker Brandon Leon is one of the best all-around athletes that you will see in this bracket and can be a complete difference maker.
The Favorite: #1 Yuma Catholic
The Shamrocks are looking to repeat and look to complete what has been an incredibly dominant 2014 season. Just one game they played in during their undefeated run was decided by less than 10 points. Tight End Matt Pistone and wide receiver Donovan Rooks have been un-guardable allowing quarterback Jagen Cleary to be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the state this season. It will take a lot to beat this team this season.
The Challengers: #2 Tempe Prep, #4 Northwest Christian, #3 Thatcher
Division V is so top heavy and the run to the state title in this bracket should be a lot of fun. You are looking at about seven different teams that could go on a run. Tempe Prep has done nothing but beat everyone except Yuma Catholic. Northwest Christian has beat everyone except Tempe Prep and Yuma Catholic, and Thatcher’s only loss was to Yuma Catholic who they played closer than anyone. All three of these teams can make a run at a state championship appearance and could be the team to shock the Shamrocks.
The Deceiver: #5 Round Valley
This team is a challenger too but the reason I left them separate is because looks can be deceiving when it comes to their seeding, not based on their record, but their strength of schedule. The Elks have lost just one regular season game in the last two seasons and were last year looked at a team with a great record but a weaker schedule. We are not going to be fooled by that again. Round Valley has proven they can make their way through the Division V bracket and has every intent on doing so again.
The Cinderella: #6 Arizona Lutheran
ALA could easily be among this list of contenders listed above but I decided to separate them just for the single reason that they are the only of the teams mentioned that have more than one loss and are the lowest seed of this top heavy bracket. That by no means indicates they are significantly worse than those teams. Their only two losses on the season are to Yuma Catholic and Northwest Christian and have a marquee win over Joy Christian and convincing wins over Valley Christian and Bourgade Catholic who are both playoff teams. Running back Jesse Zwick has been spectacular this season putting up huge numbers and will be a big key for them is the Coyotes are able to make a run.