Zone Read: What We Learned From 2021

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What We Learned From 2021…

…parity is a good a thing for football in this state.

While there were the usual suspects who made deep runs in the post-season, we saw Saguaro reach new heights – while Highland, Horizon, and Casa Grande joined the championship party. None of those schools, outside of maybe Horizon, made “Cinderella runs” but I felt this year there was more intrigue than ever entering the playoffs with storylines at all levels.

While I don’t believe it’s fair for present day 4A schools to be selected for The Open Eight (Cactus had only 41 varsity players), it did allow Casa Grande and top-seeded Poston Butte, who hadn’t won a playoff game in school history, a better opportunity to win a championship.

The west Valley saw a few teams, most notably Centennial, take steps back, but Liberty is getting ever so close to knocking down that Open Division Championship door. The Lions continue to prove their mettle.

What We Learned From 2021…

…Saguaro silenced all critics who questioned their place among the truly elite of the elite in Arizona high school football.

Along the way to their first Open Division State Championship, Jason Mohns’ squad defeated southern California heavyweight Sierra Canyon, an undefeated and Top 10 nationally ranked Hamilton, and the five-time defending Arizona state champion in Chandler. Not a bad resume, especially considering two of the Sabercats top in-state transfers, wide receiver Deric English and running back Zaccheus Cooper, both suffered season-ending injuries in their Saguaro debuts against Sierra Canyon.

If you saw Saturday’s game, you know how much senior Tristan Monday impacted virtually every snap in one way or another. The Wisconsin Badgers are getting a truly special player. He will be remembered as one of SagU’s best for many years to come.

What We Learned From 2021…

…Andy Litten crafted the perfect secret sauce at Horizon.

Sometimes things just fall in place.

For the Huskies, and their first-year head coach, the season started with their first ever win over rival Pinnacle, and culminated with their first state championship in 27 years. Horizon was never confused for being the most physically imposing team running out on the field on Friday nights, but when the whistle blew and the pads started popping, they came in laser focused and ready to play.

Litten’s offense, anchored by a handful of talented skill players, scored 43 or more points eight times in 2021, but was also able to grind out close wins against before mentioned Pinnacle, Sunrise Mountain, Desert Edge, and Desert Mountain.

What We Learned From 2021…

…believe all the smoke around Nicco Marchiol.

After last season there were some skeptics, myself included, but I can’t remember a prep quarterback make the jump this West Virginia signee did this fall. Gone were the occasional forced throws and bad decisions. The Hamilton coaches credit much of Marchiol’s 2021 success (2,690 passing yards, 369 rushing yards, 43 combined touchdowns, two interceptions) to a full year in the Huskies’ offense which makes sense, but I can’t heap enough praise on what the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder did. He was simply brilliant. 

His leadership will be missed, as well.

Enjoy Morgantown, Nicco.

What We Learned From 2021…

…the north Scottsdale triangle is alive and well. Less than 10 miles separate Horizon, Chaparral, and Saguaro. All three of those schools either won or played in championship games last weekend. 

While the southeast Valley is still considered the predominant “hot spot” for the best of the best, that narrow pocket of Scottsdale showed out this fall, especially when you add in nearby Desert Mountain who pushed Horizon to the brink in the 5A semi-finals. All four of these schools feature incredible head coaches and the job Conrad Hamilton has done turning around Desert Mountain, who finished 12-2, deserves to be spotlighted.  

What We Learned From 2021…

…despite not winning a state championship, the Cactus Cobras were every bit as dominant as “Zone Read,” and many others, expected them to be this fall. 

Yes, they came up short in the Open Eight against Saguaro, but don’t be fooled by their season-ending in a 21-point setback. Joseph Ortiz’s team shredded through their regular season opponents, outscoring them 509-64. With Will Galvin, Damian Jiles, Dom Solano, and several other key contributors set to return, don’t expect this west Valley power, guided by one of the top young coaches in the state, to be going away anytime soon.

What We Learned From 2021…

Rich Wellbrock didn’t forget how to coach.

Two years removed from a tumultuous one-win season at Mountain Pointe, the veteran coach took over a Tolleson program who hadn’t played a game in two years and led them to a region title.

The Wolverines seven wins this year were the most since 2013.

Tolleson loses star transfer quarterback Isaac Madrigal (nearly 2000 total yards, 25 combined touchdowns) but there are a handful of skill players returning (Marcus Hernandez, Clinton Moindi, Demarion Postell) which bodes well heading into the off-season.

Let’s make sure all teams who win their region make the playoffs please.

What We Learned From 2021…

…Salpointe Catholic still runs Tucson.

Like Cactus, the Lancers’ season didn’t end holding up a gold ball at Sun Devil Stadium but there’s certainly no shame in going 11-3 and advancing all the way to the 5A State Championship, while also making the deepest post-season run of any southern Arizona school. 

Sure, Treyson Bourguet will go down as arguably the best quarterback in school history, despite only playing two-plus seasons, but this Salpointe squad wasn’t loaded with talent, however, they did excel as a team. No one exemplified that more than senior Dylan Dreis. Two years ago Dreis, then a quarterback, quit after losing his job to Bourguet, who transferred in after playing his freshman season at Marana. Dreis eventually made the transition from quarterback to wide receiver this season and caught two long touchdown passes from Bourguet in Salpointe’s semi-final win over Notre Dame Prep.

Rangy defensive end Elijah Rushing, only a sophomore, will be one of the top players in Arizona the next couple of years.

What We Learned From 2021…

…the future looks bright for 2025 Higley quarterback Jamar Malone II. Understandably, we saw some mistakes, most notably 13 interceptions in just eight games but to crack the Top 20 in 6A for passing yards (1562) says quite a bit about his potential.

Did we also mention the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder rushed for 627 yards (78 yards per game) and six touchdowns?

All of the above brings a smile to Eddy Zubey’s face.