The Favorite: Mountain Pointe Pride: I think it was pretty clear that after taking it to Bishop Gorman in their first game, the Pride were in for a special season. They are as talented a group we have ever seen in Arizona and haven’t shown any signs of letting up. Seniors Jalen Brown, Antonio Hinajosa and Wesley Payne have shown incredible leadership and pair that with the emergence of running back Paul Lucas, this team is destined for special things. But they still have four games to play before they can be crowned and I am sure that is exactly what head coach Norris Vaughn has stated.
The Sidekick (second favorite): Chandler Wolves: It has also been a special season for the Chandler Wolves as well. Only losses to two nationally ranked teams (St. Johns Bosco and Mountain Pointe) and knocking off Hamilton for the first time in 17 tries. Bryce Perkins has emerged as one of the most electrifying quarterbacks and all around players in the state. He has the deepest receiving core in the state and an elite back in Chase Lucas. But what goes unnoticed is the fact that eight of their 11 defensive starters are seniors. They have a lot of experience and talent. It’s hard enough keeping up with the amount of points the Wolves are capable of scoring but having to do so with this defense in front of you, makes it that much more difficult. How crazy would it be if Hamilton and Chandler play for a spot in the state title? I think the city of Chandler might explode.
The Darkhorse: Westview Knights. Quietly over on the west side, the number five seeded Westview Knights have been virtually unstoppable. The finished the season 10-0 and were 4-0 against teams that are in the playoffs. Their running back Jalen Johnson has been special along with the rest of the Knights’ offense. Stopping the run is the key and a lot easier said than done.
The bracket buster: Pinnacle Pioneers. The postseason struggles for the Pioneers over the years are well documented but this is a different team this year. It will not be an easy road for them as the six seed but if they manage to get past Mesa Mountain View, which will not be easy as they barely beat them at home back in September, the have a shot at a rematch against Hamilton who they almost knocked off back on week three of the season. I was at that game and all the players kept saying is that they will see them again. They are my bracket busting team because I see them knocking off the Huskies in what could be one of the best games of this high school football season and be the talk of the state heading into the final four. But as mentioned, they have to beat a very good Toro team first. With Brian Lewerke leading the way at Quarterback, I think they have a great shot.
Projected State Championship matchup: #2 Chandler vs. #1 Mountain Pointe
State Champion: Mountain Pointe Pride
The Favorite: Salpointe Catholic Lancers: The Lancers have been one of the most dominating teams I can remember in Arizona in quite some time. Behind quarterback Andy Cota and receivers Cameron Denson and Kaelen Deboskie, this offense has not even been close to contained all year. Like with Chandler, the offensive success has made it so that the defense has gone somewhat unnoticed. But with Jake Casteel, Brandt Davidson and Taylor Powell, you will get to know this defense in a hurry. Everyone is targeting them for a run at state and they seem to be welcoming the challenge with open arms.
The Sidekick: Chaparral Firebirds: After a one year hiatus, the Firebirds are back in contention. They are not short on playmakers this season. Quarterback Sean Paul Brophy is stout and has so many options which include Tyler Whiley, Trevor Wood, Elijah Castro, Izzy Simpson, Malcom Thomas and that just names a few. The linebacking duo of Robbie Kleinfield and Joe Nauert are as talented as they come. VERY intriguing potential matchup in the second round against Marcos. For more on that, continue reading on to the “bracket buster section.”
The Darkhorse: Mesquite Wildcats: I feel really dumb naming a number two seed a darkhorse. But I have them here because when the average high school football fan takes a look at this bracket, they will see big names like Salpointe, Chaparral and Centennial as top four seeds. So it is easy for one to look over the Wildcats and write them off. But this team deserves everything they have had come to them. I had the privilege of watching them beat a very good Campo Verde team 30-0 in person to close out the regular season and I was blown away. Juan Giraldo is one of the best all-around players I saw on a football field this season. They can beat you in all facets of the game and their athleticism is severely underrated. Not to mention they are extremely well coached by Jim Jones.
The bracket buster: Marcos de Niza Padres: Not many can say they have owned the Chaparral Firebirds when in high school. Trust me I know, I grew up here. But if any player could say they have, it is Marcos quarterback Josh Eckley. He has won his last three times as the starting man under center against the Firebirds and has done so with flying colors. The Padres handed Chaparral their only loss in 2013, a game in which Eckley had 446 total yards of offense and seven touchdowns (six passing, one rushing), and are staring at a chance to upset them in round two and get them for the fourth time in a row.
Projected state title game: #3 Chaparral vs #1 Salpointe
State Champion: Salpointe Catholic Lancers
The Favorite: Saguaro Sabercats: It has been the same question every week, who is going to stop Christian Kirk and J.T. Nettleton? That continues in the playoffs. The Sabercats have had a fantastic season and went undefeated against teams they faced in their division. That included four teams that are in the playoffs and five if you include Marcos de Niza in division II. Quarterback Luke Rubenzer is an amazing leader and many don’t realize, he is just as good of a safety on defense as he is a quarterback. Their athleticism wares on you over the course of a game and if you don’t start fast against them, you will spend the rest of the game trying to stay above water.
The Sidekick: Desert Edge Scorpions: Pretty much the only reason the Scorpions are not the number one or two seed is because of their strength of schedule. They only played four teams that made the playoffs and beat all four very handedly. Wide receiver Elijah Marks is now the state record holder for yards receiving in a season and the man who got him the ball all year, Anthony Hernandez has been dynamic. Not to mention linebackers Ismael Murphy-Richardson and Raheem Dowdell defensively are fantastic. This team is fantastic. And I don’t see a bad snap on a punt keeping them in the way of a state title again this year. A potential semi-final game between them and Saguaro could be legendary and I see the winner of that one taking the state title against what will most likely be a very good Williams Field team.
The Darkhorse: Peoria Panthers: Hey, all the Peoria Panthers have done this season is win every game they have played. Sure their schedule hasn’t been as difficult as most but they have shown up each and every friday and have not only got the job done, they have looked darn good in the process. And when they did face some adversity in the final week of the season against rival Cactus, they managed to fight back and come out with a win. Their receiver/do-it-all Darius Aguirre is one of the best players in this bracket and Panthers will go as far as he can carry them.
The bracket buster: Sabino Sabercats: The Sabercats are hungry. They were on the wrong side of the biggest upset of the playoffs last year and have had a bad taste in their mouths since. Being on the same side of both Saguaro and Desert Edge, it will not be easy in the slightest. But if they can mange to get past one if not both, it will throw everyone’s brackets for a whirl. With next level talent like Matt Bushman at WR/TE and Andrew Mike on the offensive line, you can never count this team out.
Projected state title game: #2 Saguaro vs. #1 Williams Field
State Champion: Saguaro Sabercats
The Favorite: Show Low Cougars: Coach Ricedorff has the Show Low Cougars back in contention in division IV. They have had an outstanding year lead by quarterback Colby Maxwell who has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. And on the ground, no one has been able to stop Dallin Crandell. Their only loss on the year was to the number one seed in Division III, Williams Field, and the closest contests after that, was an 18 point win over Snowflake and a 21 point win over, the defending division III champion Queen Creek Bulldogs at Queen Creek. It will take a lot to slow down these cats. The Cougars will look to bring the title back up to the White Mountains after a one-year hiatus.
The Sidekick: Snowflake Lobos: The Lobos have had as good a season as I can remember them having. A stellar 8-2 season with the two losses being a hard fought game against Blue Ridge and as mentioned, being on the wrong side of Show Low’s smallest margin of victory all season. Running back Lehi Caldwell has over a thousand yards of total offense and quarterback Ty Reidhead is responsible for 124 points scored this season. They have already beaten the defending champion Seton Catholic Sentinels this season on the road and know they will have to do it again on the road to the state title game.
The Darkhorse/Bracket Buster: Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets: Just because they got beat by Prescott on the road who is a division above them and their rival Show Low, people have seemed to think this is not the year for Blue Ridge. I am not ready to write them off as the number four seed. It is going to be a game to remember if the Yellow Jackets and Cougars face off for a trip to the state title and I believe the winner of that game will be the state champion. Last I checked, Coach Moro is still calling the shots and he definitely knows what he is doing this time of year.
Projected state title game: #3 Snowflake vs. #1 Show Low
State Champion: Show Low Cougars