Zone Read: Heading Into October

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It’s never how you start but how you finish.

No one needs to remind the Chaparral Firebirds who had COVID-19 wreck the first month of their 2020 season, only to rally together and eventually end up hoisting the gold ball after knocking off a talented Highland squad in the 6A Championship Game.

This season also started with a setback – a humbling, lopsided loss to Queen Creek. But few Birds’ fans remember three weeks prior after what transpired last Friday night in north Scottsdale.

Although Saguaro holds just a slight edge in the overall series (23-18), the Sabercats had won three in a row entering the contest.

“It was a great high school football atmosphere with two great teams squaring off,” Chaparral head coach Brent Barnes explained to the “Zone Read” earlier this week. “I was extremely proud of how our guys battled for four quarters and shook off a bad start and found a way to finish the game.”

Saguaro took a 20-7 halftime lead but Barnes’ young team displayed championship grit, holding the Cats’ offense to just six points in the second half.

“We talked all week about [finishing],” he continued. “Since the last two times we played [them], we were the ones with a lead in the third quarter and couldn’t hold them off. Overall, it was a great night and win, but we have to keep improving each week to compete for something down the road.”

The good news in Chap Town is the improvement since Week One has been evident in lopsided wins over a solid Desert Mountain team and Higley. The road ahead has plenty of landmines, including Hamilton and Liberty, but Barnes likes what he sees as the calendar flips to October.

“We’ve gotten better each week so far, especially after the tough loss to open the season,” he said. “We’ve played tougher and more physical which has been a big difference. We’ve also had some guys with less experience coming in step up and make big plays. [We’re going to] need more of that moving forward.”

Certainly the rest of Arizona has taken notice.

An Early Opportunity

If you’re looking for an intriguing storyline this week, let Millennium and Horizon set the backdrop.

The two teams enter the contest a combined 6-1.

Horizon, under first-year head coach Andy Litton, is 3-0. While the junior-dominant Tigers also enter the contest with three wins, or, one more than they had the entire 2020 COVID-shortened season. Millennium’s only loss this fall was a 13-12 heart-breaker to Centennial.

These Tigers are starting to earn their stripes.

“What I like about this team is the way they compete and how they have stayed together during a tough COVID year,” head coach Lamar Early said to the “Zone Read.” “[They’ve] gotten better this off-season. [They’re] a fun group to coach.”

Standing in the way Friday is their toughest opponent to date in Horizon. The Huskies resume already features wins over Pinnacle, Sunrise Mountain, and Desert Edge.

Early is well aware of what lies ahead in north Scottsdale.

“Looking forward to the challenge of playing another talented team in Horizon as we have in our non-conference schedule,” he explained. “We know what we are up against and just have to go play good football.”

Millennium senior quarterback Blake Sparks has been efficient, throwing seven touchdowns against only one interception in 90 attempts. His backfield partner in crime, sophomore running back Zues Pinter, has been nearly unstoppable. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder already has 655 yards and six touchdowns. He’s averaging nine yards per carry.

Best News of the Week

Rhett Rodriguez is tough.

Always has been.

Always will be.

Last Saturday against Troy, the UL Monroe quarterback was hospitalized and in the ICU with what head coach Terry Bowden described as “severe trauma injury to the upper chest.”

On Sunday Rhett’s dad, former University of Arizona head coach, Rich Rodriguez said his son was placed on a ventilator but offered no further details. Later it was reported the former Arizona backup suffered a partially collapsed lung.  

Fortunately, the younger Rodriguez’s health took a turn for the better.

The former Tucson Catalina Foothills High star, a graduate transfer, has completed 35-62 for 337 yards and a touchdown in three games with the Warhawks. 

Rich Rodriguez is in his first year as UL Monroe’s offensive coordinator.