Zone Read: Time To Settle It On The Field

There’s just something about Arizona high school football in the month of November.

First off, congrats to all the teams who advanced last week. As I noted in my #FridayNightRewind column, if the AIA wanted more balance and competitiveness in the first round, they certainly got what they wished for.

The spotlight now shines brightest on the start of the Open Division so let’s kick things off there.

Pleased With The Process

While I’ve at times been critical of some of the inner workings of the Open Division, you won’t hear myself or many others in these circles complaining about the final result and loaded brackets one through eight.

As I mentioned above, the phrase AIA Executive Director David Hines has used over and over since leading the charge has been “competitive balance.” The Open 8 undoubtedly allows some parity within each division and opportunity for upsets like we saw last Friday.

As for eight teams who made it, Hines believes they got it right.

“We’re very pleased with the eight who earned the right to play in the Open Division,” Hines said to the “Zone Read.” “The formula that we have is what we wanted. Although in a slightly different order, the same eight teams that were Max Preps (final eight), were in ours. We’re very accurate with our ratings within the conferences.”

I, for one, tend to agree.

Now to the games…

Expecting the Unexpected

The most intriguing Open 8 matchup on paper is 8-2 Pinnacle traveling to Tucson to take on 9-0 Salpointe Catholic. Not only do both teams feature dynamic playmakers and sound, senior-laden defenses, they also start two young quarterbacks in sophomore transfer Treyson Bourguet for the Lancers and freshman Devon Dampier for the Pioneers.

The 5-foot-8 (maybe), 150-pound Dampier was pressed into action after J.D. Johnson’s playing career came to an unthinkable end late last month. His starting debut against Boulder Creek two weeks ago was off the charts, completing over 70 percent of his throws for four passing touchdowns (plus one rushing) in less than three quarters of game action.

Friday presents a different challenge against a Lancers’ defense who has pitched three consecutive shutouts and allowed 10 or fewer points in six of their nine games.

However, flipping the script, Lancers’ head coach Dennis Bene fears the ‘Neers may have an X-factor, with a little help from Father Time. 

“It’s especially difficult because of the bye week and Pinnacle has had time to alter their offense to fit Devon’s strengths,” Bene explained to the “Zone Read.” “Pinnacle has everything a team needs to surround a young quarterback and make him successful. We have to make him uncomfortable and at the same time, stop their outstanding offense.”

I’ve got this as a coin flip game between excellent head coaches and staffs.

Same But Different

From the outside looking in, Chandler and Centennial are both cut from the same cloth offensively. 

Each school boasts big, physical offensive lines, power rushing attacks and wide receivers who can turn a five-yard hitch route into a 50-yard touchdown.

The Hamilton Huskies have the task of taking on the 5A king Coyotes two weeks after standing toe-to-toe with the state’s top dog (sorry, no pun intended) Chandler Wolves.

I asked head coach Mike Zdebski if he saw similar quarterback skill-sets in Chandler sophomore Mikey Keene and Centennial’s senior leader Jonathan Morris. Both can move through progressions quickly, as well as show accuracy moving outside the pocket but it’s Morris’ ability to beat a defense with his feet which doesn’t go unnoticed by Zdebski.

“He poses a pretty good threat right there,” Zdebski told the “Zone Read.” “Playing Centennial, we have no common opponents. Casteel gave them a game but they’ve been blowing people out by halftime.”

Morris has rushed for five touchdowns this fall after not finding pay dirt once on the ground in 2018. He’s thrown 20 touchdowns against only two interceptions this year.

The job Zdebski has done in his second season at HHS flipping the script from 3-7 to 8-2 and a birth in the Open Division is nothing short of spectacular.

Dawg Turned ‘Cat

Saguaro junior athlete Xander Werner will see quite a few familiar faces when the Sabercats host Horizon Friday. 

Werner, who’s been used at quarterback and h-back/tight end this season, transferred from Horizon after his freshman season.

“Well, it’s a weird feeling knowing I played youth ball with a lot of those [guys] and went to school with them for a year,” Werner said to the “Zone Read.” “It’s been a goal or wish to play them and [now] is the opportunity to play my old school and I’m excited.”

Werner has scored seven total touchdowns (throwing, rushing, receiving) for the 9-1 ‘Cats who come into their game against the Huskies rolling on both sides of the ball.