Let’s Run it Back…Again
The four remaining Open Division teams left little doubt last week they are the four best teams in Arizona.
They’re also about as familiar with one another as holiday guests.
When Saguaro travels southeast to Arizona Avenue to take on top-seed Hamilton and, just up the road, Chandler hosts Liberty, there won’t be too many secrets when these two games kick off Saturday.
Saguaro may be young in certain areas and are clearly the underdog, facing a Huskies’ team that appears primed to finally breakthrough and hoist another gold ball but athletically, the Sabercats feel pretty confident they can match up across the board. One of SagU’s strength is their veteran offensive line which features four seniors – most notably Parker Brailsford – a University of Washington commit.
While the Cats’ offensive line will face easily their toughest task to date in Hamilton’s front seven, a group which accumulated 47 sacks (17.5 from Russell Davis II) and is allowing just 15 points per game, head coach Jason Mohns doesn’t believe the lights will be too bright and the stage too big.
“Our kids are confident,” he said after last week’s win at previously unbeaten Cactus. “We’ve been here before…all we talk about is not just getting to The Open but winning The Open. That’s what our kids believe in. Our program believes in that. Everyone we line up against, we feel like we have a chance.”
Meanwhile, the same can be said for sixth-seeded Liberty who, again, will see Chandler in the Open Division semi-finals after the Wolves survived a 35-34 nail-biter almost a year to the day the two will square off again at Austin Field.
The Lions are one of the hardest hitting teams I’ve seen in quite some time and rarely miss assignments or get caught out of position defensively, despite not being an overly big group. Like Saguaro, they won’t intimated playing the five-time defending state champion. Liberty isn’t afraid of a fist fight as they showed last week, dominating the second half, and the line of scrimmage, dispatching third-seeded Basha on the road.
Touchdown Liberty. Navi Bruzon finds Grant Brunelle for the 18-yard score.
— Zach Alvira (@ZachAlvira) November 27, 2021
While many foresee a Chandler-Hamilton Open Division Championship rematch on December 11th at Sun Devil Stadium, don’t expect the visitors to provide a red carpet to Tempe next weekend.
Circumstances or Trend?
The beginning of December not only signifies the finish line for high school football, but many college teams, as well.
Sure, the watered down bowl schedule, which features a jaw-dropping 43 games jammed into the 24-day window spanning from December 17th to January, provides opportunity for additional practices, two more plane rides, and some usually sweet bowl swag, it also often signals a players’ exit from a program and reservation in the transfer portal.
The past two weeks, specifically for a number of former Arizona star high school quarterbacks, the portal has been filled with familiar names from big-time programs looking for a change or the cliched, “fresh start.”
Jer 29:11 pic.twitter.com/4D0JZZbEJA
— Jack Miller (@jackjamesmiller) November 28, 2021
From Miller, to Spencer Rattler, to Chubba Purdy, to Jack Plummer, and certainly more to follow, these sought-after AZHS ballers will be courted once again, this time not as teenagers.
College football is ever-evolving. With NLI (Name, Likeness, Image) money at every major programs’ disposal, high-profile college coaches leaving elite-level jobs for greener pastures and greener dollars, loyalty at the college level appears to be at an all-time low with many administrators, players, and fans being left at the alter with secret deals (insert Lincoln Riley) being done behind closed doors.
We got our guy.
— USC Football (@USC_FB) November 29, 2021
So now back to how it all impacts the gunslingers from Arizona and why, particularly this year, we’ve seen such a mass exodus.
For this, “Zone Read” tapped into Sports360AZ.com recruiting expert Jordan Hamm who always has his finger on the pulse of the local scene.
There are no proper words.
Thank you 15.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) November 27, 2021
Let’s Play Two!
As mentioned briefly above, if you look closely, you’ll see a unique storyline ready to play out this weekend in the Open Division semi-finals.
Three of the four participants (Chandler, Saguaro, Liberty) are now employing, in some capacity, a two-quarterback system – something unheard of at this level of competition this late in the season.
The Sabercats seem to to have found their offensive groove with senior Ridge Docekal and junior Devon Dampier, who adds more of a running dynamic as we saw in last week’s win over Cactus.
— Jordan Hamm (@JordyHamm) October 23, 2021
Liberty features a pair of dual threat signal-callers in junior Dom Ochoa and sophomore Navi Bruzon. The duo have taken great care of the ball, throwing just five interceptions in 273 attempts. Both have quarterback ratings over 100 – Bruzon 121.3, Ochoa 109.4.
Chandler head coach Rick Garretson seems to be the new kid on the two-quarterback block, unleashing massive 6-foot-5, 225-pound Kenneth Cooper in the second half of the Wolves’ win over Queen Creek last week. The move proved to be a good one as Cooper rushed for two touchdowns and 70 yards on just six attempts.
“A two-quarterback system isn’t unheard of at the high school level,” East Valley Tribune Sports Editor and Sports360AZ.com colleague Zach Alvira told the “Zone Read.” “We’ve all seen some teams do it at times. But this year with powerhouses like Saguaro and Chandler deploying two, and sometimes three quarterbacks, it a bit of a change, not only for us who cover these teams, but their opponents. To see those teams do it this year has been surprising, but yet it’s also been effective…though I will say, I can’t see them doing it moving forward after this season.”
I guess sometimes two really is better than one.
Enjoy the games this weekend and remember to use our hashtag, #FridayNight360AZ on all your social media platforms.