Tempe Marcos de Niza is moving forward without its coach, Roy Lopez, but it has the X-Factor, senior quarterback Josh Eckley.
And, when he is clicking on all cylinders, he is Scottsdale Chaparral’s biggest nemesis.
Chaparral (10-1) is rolling along like a team hungry for a Division II championship.
Marcos de Niza put Lopez on leave before the playoffs began last week, not giving an explanation. Sean Morin, the offensive coordinator, coached Marcos de Niza to a first-round win over defending state champion Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge.
After Eckley got intercepted three times in the first half, he found ways to beat Ironwood Ridge in the second half.
Eckley and Marcos de Niza have found ways to trip up Chaparral for more than a year now. Last year, the Eckley magic worked twice in victories over Chaparral.
Early this season, in Marcos de Niza’s 56-45 win over Chaparral, Eckley was 17 of 25 for 340 yards and six touchdowns passing, and he ran 19 times for 106 yards and a touchdown.
“Should be a fantastic game,” Chaparral coach David Huffine said about Friday night’s quarterfinal meeting at Chaparral. “We are looking forward to another opportunity to play Marcos.
“It may be a little strange if Roy isn’t on the sideline, but the X-Factor will be there. I know he got beat up in the middle of the season. But he looks great now. Ironwood Ridge did a nice job of controlling the ball in the first half, but in a blink of an eye, Eckley got them back on track and took the lead. And that is what makes them so dangerous. They can score from anywhere on the field very quickly.”
Chaparral’s only loss was to Marcos de Niza, a game in which Huffine felt “as if we played our worst four quarters of the year against them.”
“But you have to give them credit in what they were able to do, which was to get the third-down conversion after third-down conversion. … Keeping Eckley off balance and changing up things on defense will be important.”
Tempe Prep came together after getting shut out in its first three games. One of those shutouts came against defending Division V champion Phoenix Northwest Christian. Tempe Prep (8-3) has won eight in a row and knocked Northwest Christian out of the playoffs in the first round with a 21-0 victory last Saturday.
“A lot of things came together for us,” coach Tommy Brittain said. “Special teams was sound, the defense was physical and played lights out, and the offensive line was dominant.
“But all those factors are fundamentally caused by young men growing in confidence. The team is learning to believe in their preparations and their weight training and their coaches and, most importantly, in one another.”
Peoria Centennial’s offensive line, led by two Pac-12-committed tackles (Kam Bennett, California; and Layth Friekh, Arizona), will try to once again control the line of scrimmage against Glendale Deer Valley in their Division II quarterfinal.
Centennial had 433 rushing yards in a 34-7 win against Deer Valley in the regular season. Junior Dedrick Young had 296 rushing yards on 34 carries in the game. Centennial was without running back Matt Rodriguez, who is now healthy.
“Everyone knows how big they are up front and their backs are exceptionally fast and one mistake can lead to a big play,” Deer Valley coach Eric Bolus said. “We coaches need to do a better job of rotating our D-Line to keep them fresh and fast.”