With the football season halfway through, it’s time for progress reports:
Most dominant football team at any level: Peoria Centennial. Not even close. The Coyotes (5-0) have scored 305 points with 14 different players scoring at least one touchdown on offense and three others on defense. They have scored no fewer than 48 points in a game. Their closest game was the opener, a 48-13 win over Raymond S. Kellis. This may be coach Richard Taylor’s deepest team. His top offensive player, running back/slot Jalen Ortiz, hasn’t had to take over games. Quarterback Tre Grant might be the best at his position the school has had. The defense is only going to get better with its top player, end Marcus Farria, in action. They have a special kicker in diminutive sophomore Joe Navarro. Once Centennial gets better on kickoff coverage (it gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Surprise Willow Canyon), it could be close to the perfect team.
Biggest team and individual surprise: Tempe. Sophomore quarterback Emanuel Gant was only known among those close to the Tempe program before he proceeded to pass for 1,186 yards and 11 touchdowns, completing 73 percent of his passes, keying the Buffaloes 4-1 start. Tempe won a total of one game the past two seasons. Even in the forfeited game against Saguaro, before he got knocked out of the game with an injury, Gant was moving Tempe with ease at times against Scottsdale Saguaro, which was starting to get into its championship groove at the time.
Year of the quarterback: There are 19 quarterbacks on pace to throw for 2,000 yards in the regular season and two – Paradise Valley’s Ryan Finley and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows’ Bryce Kinsler – on pace for 3,000 yards in 10 games. Kinsler helped himself tremendously at Prescott, throwing for a state-record 639 yards. Kinsler needs to average roughly 167 passing yards in his final five games to become the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage. His numbers are impressive, considering Cactus Shadows has won only four games since his break-out sophomore season. Eighteen of the top 21 passers in Arizona are completing at least 60 percent of their passes. Phoenix Brophy Prep senior Tyler Bruggman came into the season the state’s most heralded at his position. But he has completed just .48 percent of his passes and has 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns with five interceptions in six games. But Bruggman has been much more efficiently lately and I expect his numbers to be much better the second half of the season. He may need a big game against Phoenix Mountain Pointe on Friday to get back into conversation for state’s top quarterback.
Break-out player: Prescott senior tailback Brady Mengarelli. There are a lot of candidates but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Mengarelli was a relative unknown in football before he ran for 316 yards and four TDs on 19 carries the second game of the season against Glendale Deer Valley. Two weeks later, he had 335 yards and five TDs against Phoenix Moon Valley, and last week, in a 63-49 win over Cactus Shadows, Mengarelli had 419 yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries. He also returned a kickoff back for a touchdown. Mengarelli, who has 19 rushing TDs, not only leads the state with 1,410 rushing yards but is seventh nationally, according to stats posted on MaxPreps.com. Honorable mentions: Sierra Vista Buena junior RB Dominique Drake has given the program a jolt of promise with his ability to make plays on his own. Mesa Red Mountain receiver Drake Pierre has 32 catches for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns. Scottsdale Prep’s Matt Munsil lead everybody in TD catches with 13. And Phoenix St. Mary’s senior Lukas Treffers leads the state with 42 receptions . And before last week, Peoria Sunrise Mountain senior Elroy Masters was averaging 36 yards on 18 catches with 10 touchdowns.
Most talented passing duo: Arguments could be made for a number of duos in the state (including Red Mountain’s Mason Thorman and Drake Pierre), but I’d have to go with Scottsdale Desert Mountain juniors Kyle Allen and Mark Andrews. Andrews is not only a big target at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, but he can make plays after he catches it. Allen is good about bouncing back after making a mistake and making the secondary pay. Last week, Allen hooked up four times with Andrews for touchdowns, the last of which came in the final minute to pull out a victory over Scottsdale Notre Dame and run Desert Mountain’s record to 5-0, the best start in school history.
Most wide-open division: Division I with so many teams so close to each other. Mountain Pointe gets a slight nod right now in a mix of six to eight teams that all have a chance to win state. Mountain Pointe has been far from perfect but it has an ability to overcome mistakes with sheer athleticism. See its wins over Phoenix Desert Vista and Chandler. Mountain Pointe beat Chandler Hamilton, Desert Vista and Chandler – teams with a combined 11-3 record – by a total of six points. To get through those teams with wins shows a resiliency and a toughness that separates it from the rest. But Brophy Prep is still my pick to win the D.I championship with Mountain Pointe, Phoenix Desert Vista, Mesa Red Mountain and Chandler all with as good a shot as anyone. Brophy Prep’s loss to Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) will be the best thing that happened to it. The defense is as good as Mountain Pointe’s when healthy. And you’ve got believe Bruggman and Devon Allen will turn it on in the season’s second half, especially with Brophy proving to have a running game with Marche Dennard healthy and running well.
Most improved team from Week 1 to Week 5: Scottsdale Saguaro. Any coach will tell you that you are only as good as your players. Well, Saguaro has just about everybody back and the team is clicking on its 2011 cylinders offensively with receiver Christian Kirk back after missing the first couple of games with an injury and with the triple-threat backfield of QB Luke Rubenzer and backs Kash Robinson and Gena Adams. The defense is now taking over games, something that was missing in the 32-29 loss to Paradise Valley to open the season. Saguaro coach Jason Mohns feels this team has more depth than last year’s D.III championship team that scored 747 points. He will find out Friday when his team plays defending D.I champion Desert Vista, the biggest, most physical and talented team his team will see all season. But this won’t be a cakewalk to a third consecutive state title for Saguaro. Phoenix Thunderbird has arguably the state’s best running back in Kani Benoit and it has a better-than-average passing game. Goodyear Desert Edge has quietly been dominating foes (the offense has gained more than 500 yards in each of its past four games behind underrated QB Sawyer Lung). Peoria Liberty’s defense has backed up a strong offense led by as good an overall QB there is in Arizona, senior Tyler Rogers. Queen Creek has allowed just 29 points while blowing out teams with great balance on offense. Tucson Sabino is a complete team without super stars that gets it done in every phase.
Greatest statement games: There were three that jump out — Mountain Pointe’s 17-14 win to start the season against Hamilton, Red Mountain’s 33-31 win over Brophy Prep and Saguaro’s 67-14 win over Glendale Cactus.
Best linebacker trio: Brophy Prep’s Robert Relf, Andrew Curtis and middle linebacker Conner Martinez can make that claim. Martinez is the smallest and least recruited of the three, but he has a huge heart and his passion is infectious. Relf is a game changers with his big hits and Curtis has great nose for the ball. These guys can cover up as well as any trio in the state for missed tackles from the front line.
Comeback player: Laveen Cesar Chavez senior linebacker Gilbert Reger. He is the model of patience and perseverance. After transferring from Phoenix St. Mary’s before his junior year, he was among the state’s top tacklers at Chavez last season, before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL late in the year that required reconstructive surgery. After Reger’s injury, Chavez finished with losses to Laveen Betty Fairfax and Tempe Marcos de Niza, in which those teams ran all over Chavez. Chavez ended up 7-3 and missing out on the D.II playoffs. This year, he has been playing lights out for a 5-0 team, averaging 12.8 tackles, second-best in the state, according to MaxPreps.com. He is only about 5-10, 200 pounds, but he is very strong and has a non-stop motor. He is also a vocal leader on defense, making the calls and getting everybody involved. He has tremendous instincts and is great sideline to sideline. He is always around the ball.
Small ball scenarios: Lakeside Blue Ridge’s Paul Moro shouldn’t have trouble winning his 300th career game against St. Johns on Friday with another great D.IV team that appears ready to make another run at a title. But Show Low is right there and it won’t be easy for the Yellow Jackets. Phoenix Northwest Christian and Yuma Catholic appear on another collision course to the D.V final. This is playing out just like the previous two seasons. Who will take the rubber match? Northwest Christian beat YC for the title in 2010 and lost to YC in the final last year. And this could be the year one of the Phoenix metro schools takes the eight-man title with Scottsdale Prep and Glendale Joy Christian quite capable of getting over the hump against Joseph City and Heber Mogollon.