Zone Read: Three Weeks, Three Thoughts

Arizona Sports News online

The long wait and anticipation of the 2023 season has, as it’s done in the past, given way to the blur of September as we’ve passed the mid-point of the month, as well as the first leg of the big school schedule.

“Zone Read” decided to simply the offensive game plan this week with three thoughts from the first three weeks.

Baby Birds

First-year head coach Doug Nisenson and his Chaparral Firebirds have hit some turbulence taking flight in north Scottsdale, but I can see this team improving at all three levels as the season plays out. From a big picture perspective, the future appears bright in Chap Town.

After a season-opening 26-6 thumping at home to O’Connor, a school where Nisenson once coached as an assistant before moving out of state, the Birds  blew out Shadow Ridge 42-0, then fell late on the road to Shea Boulevard rival Desert Mountain 24-21, in a game featuring plenty of controversy in the closing seconds.

With Chap in DM territory and driving with under a minute to play, talented sophomore quarterback Marcel Jones scrambled to the Wolves’ sideline, clearly stepping out of boards. As the Chaparral offense jogged to the line of scrimmage for the next play, an apparent fourth down (the stadium scoreboard wasn’t working), the refs wound the clock. Without a timeout, the Firebirds rushed to the ball and Jones quickly clocked it, turning the ball over on downs with just seconds left and Chap on the edge of what could have been a potential game-tying field goal.

Chalk up the loss as a hard luck growing experience for the players and staff, but Nisenson must have been pleased to see his young collection of talent stand toe-to-toe with, Desert Mountain, who many feel is an Open Division contender, despite being in 5A. 

He told “Zone Read” on the field before the game last week 10 of his starters aren’t old enough to drive.

As expected, Chap’s 6A Northeast Valley is stacked with Centennial, Liberty, Pinnacle, and Liberty a combined 11-1 to start the season.

Just Like the “Old Days”

Death, taxes, and the Centennial Coyotes moving bodies at the line of scrimmage.

Ah, yes – what’s an old style, is never old to legendary head coach Richard Taylor. 

I’m convinced Taylor is one of the few Arizona high school head coaches, maybe the only coach, who could give his game plan to the opposing team the week of, and still win the game. The Coyotes’ offense is going to come at you, content to move the chains, and control the clock. Defensively, mastermind Andrew Taylor is solely focused on neutralizing the production of the opponent’s top players.

I saw it first hand in Week 1 when talented Desert Edge junior quarterback Hezekiah Millender completed just 8 of 20 passes for 81 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. For perspective, one of Millender’s completions went for 40 yards. Centennial also forced two DE turnovers in the red zone in the 13-0 shutout. The margin could have been much greater if the Coyotes didn’t miss multiple field goals throughout the game.

Centennial got a Week 2 win over Corona del Sol, before last week’s 35-0 stomping of a talented Mountain Pointe squad.

Coyotes sophomore quarterback Kainan Manna has done well running the offense, throwing just one interception in three games. Recent Washington State commit Kenneth Worthy is a game-changer on either side of the ball at wide receiver or cornerback.

Taylor continues to climb the in-state ladder for coaching wins. Don’t be surprised to see him reach the top 5, potentially higher before the end of the season.

Welcome to the Northeast Valley Nightmare

Maybe there’s something in the water up north.

We already spent some time on the 6A Murderer’s Row gauntlet, so let’s not forget about the 5A version featuring Horizon, Cactus Shadows, Desert Mountain, defending 5A State Champion Higley, ALA-Gilbert North, and Notre Dame Prep who are a ridiculous combined 16-2 over the first three weeks of the season.

That’s right, 16-2.

For perspective, ALA-Gilbert North’s loss was to 6A ALA-Queen Creek, while NDP dropped a close Week 2 home game to a  skilled Desert Edge team.

3-0 Cactus Shadows has almost reached their win total (four) in 2022. “Zone Read” knew 2026 CSHS quarterback Donivan Dixon was going to be special. The dynamic dual-threat signal-caller is averaging 18 yards per completion with six touchdowns, and only one interception. He’s also the Falcons leading rusher.

Expect region play to be extremely competitive in the coming weeks with many, if not all of these schools, making the playoffs.

Tighten up those chinstraps, October is going to be a whole lotta fun.