No rest for defending champion Desert Vista

Phoenix Desert Vista took a knee, coach Dan Hinds pumped his fist and the student body swarmed the field to celebrate its 35-28 victory over Chandler Basha Friday.

Wait, the student body rushed onto the field after a first-round playoff game? Did the kids forget that Desert Vista won the Division I championship just a year ago, and you’re supposed to act like you’ve been there before?

“They get excited. We love it,” Hinds said with a smile

If Desert Vista is going to earn a second straight state title, it definitely will have earned it. When the brackets were released it looked like the MaxPreps computer had it out for Desert Vista. A first-round game against Basha and its explosive offense. A potential quarterfinal matchup with Chandler Hamilton, which will come to fruition next Friday. A possible semifinal game against Mesa Desert Ridge.

And then, if Desert Vista can somehow escape all those traps, the championship game.

The Thunder didn’t have to work nearly as hard last year, when it rolled to easy victories over Phoenix North Canyon and Phoenix Pinnacle in the first two rounds. But this Desert Vista team may be up to the challenge because of what transpired in 2011.

That championship run has filled Desert Vista with confidence. There’s a difference between a team believing it can win a title and knowing it can. Last year, Desert Vista believed. This year, there’s not a scintilla of doubt.

That doesn’t mean Desert Vista is cocky or will give its effort a day off. But that confidence is a shield against hard times and bad breaks.

“The mindset is different because we have the swagger from last season to do the exact same thing,” said senior Austin Hicks, who intercepted a pass in the end zone with 13 seconds left to preserve Friday’s victory.

That swagger was needed against Basha. Desert Vista survived four turnovers — three fumbles and an interception — and 10 catches and 124 receiving yards from Basha receiver Nate Phillips, who might just be the toughest 175-pounder in the state. Phillips was drilled time and time again by the Desert Vista defense but kept getting back up and catching passes. No matter what happens from here on out, it will be one of the best performances of the post-season.

The win did expose a potential fatal flaw for Desert Vista: Its passing game. Quarterback Matt Young threw for just 78 yards, and Basha could have picked off three or four passes. Desert Vista’s running game is stout — Jarek Hilgers and Co. ran for 239 yards against Basha — but one-dimensional teams usually don’t fare well against Hamilton.

“Everybody’s passing game needs to get better,” Hinds said. “We’re going to get better.”

When the brackets were released, Hinds did everything he could to make sure his team wasn’t looking ahead to Hamilton and a rematch of last year’s title game. Instead of taping the entire Division I bracket to the window in the coaches’ office, the only game that could be seen was Desert Vista vs. Basha.

But the kids knew.

“It lit our eyes up. We wanted them so bad,” Hicks said. “We love playing people, and Hamilton is great competition. We feel like we need to play the best in order to be the best.”

It’s odd. Desert Vista is the defending state champion, yet when the playoffs began, they were almost an afterthought in the conversational avalanche about Hamilton, Phoenix Brophy Prep and even Phoenix Mountain Pointe.

But that will all change Friday when Desert Vista-Hamilton is the marquee game in Division I. It’s an opportunity for Hamilton to avenge last year’s championship game loss and a chance for Desert Vista to prove this year’s 23-13 loss to Hamilton wasn’t a sign of things to come.

“You guys will make it a really big matchup,” Hinds told reporters, “But we treat them all the same.”

Yeah, right. Even his players aren’t buying that one.

“We’re fully ready,” Hicks said. “Bring them on.”

Reach Bordow at or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at

More News