Andrew Luberda: The County Line, Week Nine

The County Line

The County Line

We missed last week so we have to make for it this week, when many football teams around the state can clinch a region title, a playoff berth or both. Some others can move closer to a coveted spot and some can be eliminated.

We’ll eliminate any further delay and get to it…

Worth the wait – I’ve had my eyes on a couple of players that had to sit out the first five weeks as a result of the transfer rule, and they proved to be worth the wait.

The first is 2017 Bucket List member Alec Meza out in Eloy at Santa Cruz. The senior athlete has 348 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – six rushing, one receiving – in just three games since becoming eligible.

Perhaps more impressive is Meza’s accomplishments off the field, which he told me during the summer was the major factor in his decision to transfer.

The undefeated Dust Devils now have three running backs with at least 300-plus rushing yards, including Meza, Titarro Jones (705 yards) and Raoul Perales (433).

That’s a trio that could literally run No. 4 Santa Cruz to a state title.

The other player that’s impressed me is Combs’ junior Cody White, who transferred from Highland.

White, a running back, has been a spark for the Coyotes’ offense, which had a miserable start to the season, but has posted 111 combined points the last two weeks, including 48 in a win at Coronado last Friday.

In that game, White rushed for 269 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 543 yards and eight touchdowns in addition to 70 receiving yards.

White is candidate for our Little Caesars Player of the Week. Follow @CountyLinePreps on Twitter to see who wins this week’s award.

You’ll get a kick out of this – No less than four kickers in the CountyLinePreps.com coverage area are among the top-26 PAT stat leaders in Arizona – senior Talen Rider (ALA – QC, No. 5), sophomore Brandon McMahan (STFHS, No. 9), senior Jacori Wooten (Queen Creek, No. 20), and senior Sean Crandall (BFHS, No. 26).

Rider was the top scoring kicker in the nation a week ago but now ranks seventh after the Patriots’ bye week. He also ranks third among FG stat leaders in Arizona, making 8-of-10 attempts with a long of 43 yards.

All four kickers rank first or second in their respective regions for kick scoring, including Wooten, who is second in the 5A San Tan Region and holds two offers to play at the next level – Ripon College and Simpson College.

More to consider on lopsided scores – There’s been a lot said and written about lopsided scores and when enough is enough. During my last few years covering high school I’ve talked to several coaches whose teams delivered the expected the one-sided result.

The common belief among all of them is those games are not easy or fun to coach.

How much should the starters play? 

Is the bye week before or after said game?

They don’t want to embarrass the opponent.

They want their team to remain fresh, find playing time for non-regulars, and most importantly stay healthy.

The running clock for point margins of 42 points or greater attempts to limit scores in the 80’s, for example, although that didn’t work in a recent game

At a game I recently covered, in which the running clock rule was in effect, the opposing team continued to call timeouts with more than two minutes left in the game. I understand the desire for a team to score, attempting to end the game with some confidence going forward. I don’t, however, like the idea of calling timeouts 40-50 yards away from scoring a touchdown.

Think of the result if the team doesn’t score:  they turn the ball over on downs, most likely, with good or better than good field position, making it easier to increases an already large margin of victory.

Afterwards, the winning coach gets blamed for running it up.

But who’s truly to blame?

Not the winning coach, in my opinion.

New conference alignment – I don’t want to get deep into this because things can change once appeals are heard, but there are a few things that caught my eye and ears relative to the schools covered on CountyLinePreps.com.

The first being the conference alignment of Combs and Poston Butte, two schools that were initially placed in 4A for the next two years.

Why are two schools that are only 9 miles apart in different regions?

I’ve covered four schools in the area for going on five years now, and if I’ve learned one thing it’s this:  the students at Combs, Poston Butte, Queen Creek, and even San Tan Foothills know each other very well. They live in the same subdivisions, attend many of the same churches, played youth sports together, and, in some cases, attended more than one of those schools during their high school career.

There’s a natural rivalry among all of those schools.

map for County LineI’m nearly 100 percent certain the student-athletes at Combs and Poston Butte would love to play each other in every sport twice a year. Every other school in the proposed regions that Combs and Poston Butte are aligned with – Black Canyon and Desert Sky – are more than the nine-mile straight-shot down Ironwood/Gantzel Road in San Tan Valley.

Furthermore, Apache Junction, a proposed Black Canyon Region member, and also located on Ironwood Road, is less than 16 miles north of Poston Butte and less than 10 miles north of Combs.

I believe all three of those schools would benefit from being aligned in the same region, creating local rivalries with kids who grew up together.

Perhaps it makes too much sense.

Queen Creek just barely made the cut, or missed it, depending on how you view it. The Bulldogs have the lowest enrollment in 6A, the conference they’ll play in starting next season.

Many are wondering how the Bulldogs will fare against the state’s largest schools.

As I wrote in a previous edition of The County Line, Queen Creek expected this result.

I believe the Bulldogs will still compete for championships, as is the #QCWay.

I did ask Head Coach Travis Schureman for his thoughts and he refused to elaborate on next year, saying he’s more concerned about the final two regular-season games and the playoffs THIS year.

Speaking of rivalries, I’ve heard from a few that Queen Creek feels it will be devoid of a true rival, considering it will be aligned with Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista, Corona del Sol, Desert Ridge, and Highland, as proposed.

Queen Creek has enjoyed rivalries with Higley, Williams Field and Poston Butte during the last several years, including some when all three appeared on the Bulldogs’ schedule.

A rivalry usually develops when one team unexpectedly defeats another.

I wouldn’t argue that the Bulldogs may not have an obvious or an immediate rival among the schools listed, but I wouldn’t anticipate it taking long for one to develop in quick order.

No. 4 vs No. 5 – I’ll be at Benjamin Franklin on Friday night, when the No. 5 Chargers host No. 4 Florence in a big-time 3A Central Region game.

The contest does not have region-title implications (ALA will likely clinch with a win on Friday), but it figures to have a significant impact on the playoff rankings and seedings in a couple of weeks.

I’ve been trying to determine which team holds an edge, and after a week or more of analyzation I’ve given up. I could make an argument for either team winning the game, and I have – several times.

In the end, I’ve come up with this regarding the two teams with near opposite offensive styles:  Both offenses can light up the scoreboard – Florence uses a balanced attack through the air and on the ground with Nolan Susel, Jared Wood and Shane Mathis. The Chargers do it almost exclusively on the ground with Zack Jefferies and Chandler Miles. I believe the winner will be whichever team’s defense best limits the opponents’ prolific offense.

Between the two teams, the Chargers’ defense has been statistically more consistent, but they haven’t faced an offense with the Gophers’ firepower since the season opener versus ALA.

I can’t predict a winner.

Instead, I’ll just look forward to watching a meaningful late-season region game in a playoff-type atmosphere.

Player of the Week – Benjamin Franklin’s Seth Hamblin was our Little Caesars Player of the Week after scoring two defensive touchdowns in the Chargers’ win against Safford.

We’ll announced this week’s POTW on Twitter. Follow @CountyLinePreps for the announcement on Thursday night.