An 0-2 football start was cause for alarm at Scottsdale Chaparral, where state championships had become the norm.
But Dave Huffine, taking over the program from good friend Charlie Ragle, was not panicking. He knew his young team had just played two of the top Division II teams and lost to both Tucson Salpointe Catholic and Tempe Marcos de Niza in the final minute.
As it turned out, Salpointe and Marcos de Niza finished 1-2 in the final seeds, and Chaparral, the No. 7 seed, recovered, winning eight of its next nine games, and now gets a chance to amend for the 29-27 loss to Marcos de Niza that slipped away on the game’s last play — quarterback Josh Eckley’s 11-yard touchdown run that had the Marcos de Niza sideline jumping up and down in pandemonium.
“I think whenever you play a team for a second time in the same year, when you lose to a team, it changes everything that you do,” Huffine said. “I don’t want to get away from the things that made us successful the last seven weeks in terms of chemistry and working together. We’re working harder each and every week to improve.”
Chaparral (8-3), the three-time defending state champion, has won seven in a row. But this will be by far the most athletic and fastest and physical team it has faced since August.
Linebacker/receiver Jake Roh, safety Alex Arnold, defensive end Alex Ziomek, defensive backs Tim Murphy and Jordin Hamilton all are going to be greatly challenged on defense by Marcos de Niza’s Big 3 of Eckley, running back Mauriece Lee and wide receiver Paul Elvira.
“Their line has been playing very well on both sides,” Huffine said. “Their linebacker corps is very solid. It’s not the same Marcos de Niza team that would rely on a few guys. They’ve really got a solid football team all around.”
It won’t take much for Huffine to get his players motivated for the state quarterfinal game Friday night at Marcos de Niza.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” he said. “Very rarley in life do you get a chance to go up agaisnt a team you feel like you had a chance to win at the end. This will be an emotional game on both sides. They were thrilled to win and we were destroyed when we got beat. But both teams are making the the most of that game in terms of building from that competition. … Marcos is going to be sky high.”
Chaparral has grown up since then. The offense has improved with senior quarterback Brad Schencker taking over. The defense has been solid, but will be the ultimate challenge.
“We have to cover well and contain, and tackle well in the open space,” Huffine said. “We have to make sure we’re efficient on third down.”
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