Zone Read: Let The Playoffs Begin

Arizona Sports News online

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you and hopeful you’re spending it with the most important people in your lives.

We’ve made it, somehow, to the playoffs for the teams talented and lucky enough (in 2020) to get to this point.

The Great Open Eight Debate

All the speculation and debate turned to reality last weekend when the AIA’s “secret panel” revealed the playoff brackets, including the much-anticipated Open Division seedings. 

Of course, there were some eyebrows raised, including yours truly about the inclusion of Tucson Salpointe.

What’s done is done and now the 6-seeded and unbeaten Lancers have the opportunty to state their case Friday night at Saguaro. 

Salpointe is carrying that chip on their shoulder knowing they have plenty to prove this week taking on the Sabercats without Class of 2020 stars like Bijan Robinson, Lathan Ransom, Bruno Fina, Connor Witthoft, Luke Regina, Trent Strong and several other standouts.

“On paper we’re an alright team, we have some talent here and there,” stud junior quarterback and University of Arizona commit Treyson Bourguet explained to the “Zone Read” almost matter of factly. “Really, it’s not our skill that makes us so good, it’s our unity and how hard we work.”

The private Catholic school, to their credit, was proactive and aggressive in building their resume – even in the midst of the southern Arizona COVID. SC has wins over Campo Verde, Mountain Ridge and Desert Mountain. 

“It’s not like we had the basic Salpointe schedule against a bunch of Tucson teams,” Bourguet noted. “We went out and scheduled Phoenix teams. The best Phoenix teams we could find at the time. We blew those teams out. They couldn’t keep up with us, even though they may have had better athletes. With our first-year coach, our sophomores, juniors and a couple of seniors here and there, we still did our thing.”

Said first-year head coach Eric Rogers has unquestionably done a phenomenal job after Dennis Bene build SC into one of the most successful programs in all of Arizona.

They’ll get to prove themselves all over again Friday against a familar foe in Saguaro. 

(Bull)dog Mentality

The 6A bracket is simply loaded and one team “Zone Read” believes could have easily made the Open Eight is 6-2 Queen Creek.

QC enters Friday’s home matchup against a dangerous seven-seeded Chaparral team brimming with confidence and riding a four-game win streak – which was jump-started with a convincing 24-14 win at Highland late last month. 

The Bulldogs two narrow losses were to Casteel and Liberty.

“Zone Read” asked head coach Joe Germaine if felt a bit slighted not being selected considering their body of work and tying Casteel (by record) for the Fiesta Region Championship.

“We feel good about the season we’ve had thus far,” he explained to the “Zone Read.” “We’re humbled with the opportunity we have to be in the 6A playoffs and to compete against Chaparral this week. This is our focus.”

Junior quarterback Devin Brown has come on throwing 18 touchdowns against just four interceptions and QC has spread the wealth in the passing game with seven players having at least 100 receiving yards on the season. Trey Reynolds and Payton Barlow form a “thunder and lightning” backfield behind an offensive line anchored by ASU commit Isaia Glass.

Meanwhile, the defense hasn’t given up 30 points in a game this season.

Colts in Coverage

Speaking of Casteel, the 6A 5th-seeded Colts (5-3) will certainly have their hands full at Highland Friday, especially considering the youth in the back half of their defense.

The Colts start three freshmen in the secondary.

That’s right.

Three.

Freshmen.

“They’re great athletes, they’re great competitors,” head coach Bobby Newcombe said in a recent interview with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat. “They’re very mature young men and they love the game of football. They don’t shy away from competition, regardless of who they’re playing.”

Two of those freshmen have incredible football bloodlines in Kennedy Urlacher, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher and coaches’ son, Jeremiah Newcombe. The third, Gerayas Grimes, was called up earlier this month and has started the last three games.

Outside of lopsided losses to Saguaro and Chaparral, the Colts have fared well in close games this year and have come back a handful of times to claim wins. 

Hammerin’ Hank

Somewhat overshadowed on Chandler’s loaded roster is senior linebacker Hank Pepper who just happens to lead the Wolves in tackles.

In last week’s convincing win over Hamilton the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder tallied an eye-popping 18 tackles (five for loss) to bring his team-leading total to 72. Pepper also registered a pair of sacks in the victory.

Pepper, rated by some as high as a five-star long snapper, has already made his commitment but the buzz this past week has been why more schools haven’t shown interest for what he does on defense, as well.

“Yeah, I feel I’m a little under recruited for linebacker,” Pepper noted to the “Zone Read” earlier this week leading up to Chandler’s Open Eight game against Desert Edge. “I definitely think I’d be able to play linebacker at the next level.”

His head coach seems to agree.

“Hank Pepper is dominating at the linebacker position while playing the top competition in the state of Arizona,” Rick Garretson said. “He’s outstanding supporting the run, defending the pass and blitzing off the edge…he is one of the top linebackers on the west coast.”

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.