Zone Read: Final Four Weekend

Arizona Sports News online

Welcome to December!

The cream of the 2020 Arizona high school football crop is rising to the surface and we are just over a week away from a handful of teams hoisting gold balls so let’s jump into the latest “Zone Read.”

Bigger Than Football

Earlier this week long-time Desert Vista head coach Dan Hinds retired after 19 seasons as Thunder head coach.

When you’re fortunate enough as I am to cover high school football in this state, you tend to gravitate towards the players and coaches who impact you as a journalist/reporter/storyteller or whatever your title may be.

For all of Hinds’ success on the field at DV (128-84 career record), I appreciate him even more as a man of character and leader of young men.

When I’d arrive on campus and Hinds would ask me (every single time), “How’s your family doing?” I knew it was coming from a sincere place because it was always followed up with a handful of other questions that had absolutely nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

Jason Skoda knows.

Enjoy your retirement, Coach Hinds – the high school football community is going to miss you tremendously…so don’t be a stranger. 

“We’re Doing This For Them”

Friday night Casa Grande will make school history when the Cougars host Cactus in the 4A state semi-finals.

No team in CGUHS history has made it this deep into the football postseason and it’s an accomplishment no one inside or around the program is taking for granted – dating back several generations.

“The kids were saying, ‘My parents went to school here. My aunts and uncles went to school here. My dad and my cousins all played here,'” head coach Jake Barro said to the “Zone Read.” “We’re doing this for them, too. That was pretty well talked about on Friday [after CG’s win 47-30 win over Peoria]. We don’t just want to do this for us, we want to do this for everybody who came before us.”

Casa Grande, with a population of around 60,000, sits between the Valley and Tucson just west of the I-10. The Cougars don’t get the luxury of impact transfers like many programs but instead rely on home grown and raised players who have been teammates or competing against one another in the rural city since their early youth.

“It’s really cool to have such a tight-knit community that supports you and to have all the players who grew up together,” Barro said.

Don’t for a second think this CG group is going to be a one-year wonder. The core of the offensive skill talent, most notably quarterback Angel Flores, running back R.J. Keeton and wide receiver Demetrius Garrett are all juniors, while linebacker Jake Sylvestre, cornerback/safety Andon Eager and cornerback Kevin White help anchor the Cougs’ defense. All three of the defensive standouts will be back next season, as well.

For now, it’s time to get ready for a Cactus team looking to take the next step and finish after falling to Mesquite in the 4A Championship last season.

Philly Special…With A Brophy Influence

Colin Thomas was just waiting for the right moment.

Liberty had just scored in the closing minutes and – trailing Centennial last week 24-23 – the first-year head coach was ready to go all-in with an Open Eight semi-final appearance on the line.

The two-point call was signaled in from the Liberty sideline almost immediately.

Starting quarterback Brock Mast slow-played the Coyotes’ defense and then snuck out of the backfield as the Centennial defense flowed to the opposite side, freshman quarterback Navi Bruzon came back to the near side of the field and lofted the ball to Mast who was wide open in the corner of the end zone after leaking out of the backfield uncovered.

“Obviously, it’s the Philly Special,” Thomas explained with a wide grin to the “Zone Read” after the game. “But Brophy ran it on us two weeks ago and scored on it. We didn’t cover it. So, [last] week we put it in on Monday and if we got in that spot, we were going to run it and sure enough, it worked.”

Thomas texted Brophy head coach Jason Jewell last weekend and joked, “I owe you a beer.” Jewell deflected credit to his offensive staff and admitted they stole it, as well.

Saturday presents an entirely different beast traveling to the southeast Valley to take on Chandler, a team who whipped the Lions 44-10 in Week One in Peoria.

“Excited to play them again to see how much we’ve grown,” Thomas said. “We’re going to give them everything we’ve got.”

Rest assured Rick Garretson’s defense will be well-versed in how to defend the Philly Special.

Same Mentality

Like Casa Grande, Boulder Creek is also entering unchartered post-season waters.

The 6A top-seeded Jaguars (8-1) are a couple of plays away from a perfect season as they prepare to host Highland this weekend.

BC, usually one of the final teams to qualify for the playoffs because of their difficult schedule, has gone from the hunter to the hunted.

But the Jags’ approach isn’t changing just hours away from Final Four weekend in amped up Anthem.

“We’re not really worried about it,”  senior quarterback and New Mexico commit Milacek said to the “Zone Read.” “We’re the one-seed for a reason. We’re just playing our game.”

Boulder Creek is simply living in the moment.

“It’s a big deal in Anthem,” he continued. “It’s never happened before. We love this community.”

Milacek was also quick to remind “Zone Read” when he was playing for Brophy and now teammate and star running back Jacob Cisneros was at  Westview, his backfield partner intercepted him twice in the same game when both we freshmen before joining forces at BC. 

“It’s unspoken of,” Milacek quipped. “We don’t even talk about it.”

The duo hope to do their talking in a different way Friday night against one of the most talented teams in Arizona.

Balance of Powers

While the AIA has been under seige for a number of things in 2020, they have to pleased with the competitive balance in the 5A division when it came to the eight teams selected for the playoffs.

It’s no secret the majority of the high-end, upper division power programs reside in the southest Valley but this year’s 5A field showed a blend of teams from as far to west as Buckeye to as far east as Gilbert.

The west Valley was represented by Sunrise Mountain, Ironwood and Verrado. The north Valley featured Cactus Shadows, Desert Mountain, Notre Dame Prep and Sunnyslope, as well as Gilbert’s Campo Verde.

Is this merely a coincidence or more of a trend?

“Zone Read” had to ask usually the smartest Arizona high school football mind in the room.

“Yes, there is a better geographic power in 5A,” Arizona Varsity/Gridiron Arizona’s Chris Eaton said to the “Zone Read.” “Now if you look at 6A, including the Open Division, you had three from the west Valley, seven from the east Valley and three from the north Valley. Most of 6A are east Valley schools. Of the 29 teams that competed this year, 19 of them are in the east Valley.”

The Open was also spread evenly with Desert Edge, Liberty and Centennial out west – the usual east powers in Chandler, Saguaro and Hamilton, along with Corona del Sol, as well as Tucson Salpointe. 

Eaton noted we would have seen even more diversity in 5A this fall if the Tucson public schools had been able to compete. 

 

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.