This is the third in a series examining the five 11-man divisional state football playoffs. Scottsdale Saguaro looks like it should simply steamroll through for a second consecutive championship and seventh in nine years, but it has to be played out and anything can happen. Saguaro has such great senior leadership that it will make sure nothing crazy happens. Let’s break down the first round:
This is the third in a series examining the five 11-man divisional state football playoffs.
Scottsdale Saguaro looks like it should simply steamroll through for a second consecutive championship and seventh in nine years, but it has to be played out and anything can happen. Saguaro has such great senior leadership that it will make sure nothing crazy happens.
Let’s break down the first round:
No. 16 Tucson Sabino (7-3) at No. 1 Saguaro (10-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Sabino coach Jay Campos is so amazed watching the film of Saguaro this season that he believes this may be the best team in the state, regardless of division. Saguaro is ranked No.2 in the Super 10, behind Chandler, by azcentral sports. Senior Christian Kirk sets the table, and with tailback Kam’ron Johnson, wide receiver Byron Murphy and quarterback Kare’ Lyles all on point to make plays, this is a team that can lull a team into thinking it can hang with them, before lighting up the scoreboard with three touchdowns in less than two minutes.
Prediction: Saguaro 45, Sabino 18
No. 9 Buckeye Verrado (9-1) at No. 8 Oro Valley Canyon del Oro (8-2), Friday, 7 p.m.
Verrado can look back at the loss to Goodyear Desert Edge for having to take the long road in the first round at state. But this Verrado team is good, and Canyon del Oro will find out quickly what it is in for. Canyon del Oro will be ready. Its two losses came against very good Division II playoff teams, Ironwood Ridge and Cienega. And in both Canyon del Oro was in it until the end.
Prediction: Canyon del Oro 33, Verrado 27
No. 12 Tucson Catalina Foothills (7-3) at No. 5 Queen Creek (8-2), Friday, 7 p.m.
You can never count out a Jeff Scurran-coached team, but this is the youngest team Scurran has ever had. Scurran is the master motivator and technician. He will make sure Catalina Foothills players are in the right places to give his team a chance. But Queen Creek is on full throttle with running back Weston Barlow coming off a career game in which he rushed for 405 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain. The senior leadership and a strong line should give Queen Creek the edge.
Prediction: Queen Creek 31, Catalina Foothills 24
No. 13 Bradshaw Mountain (7-3) at No. 4 Goodyear Desert Edge (9-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Desert Edge’s only loss came early in the season to Division II top-seed Peoria Liberty. Since then, Desert Edge has dominated every opponent, including a 49-21 win over Sabino. This is one of coach Rich Wellbrock’s younger teams, but it also one of his most versatile and talented. And the line is huge. Give running quarterback Tehran Thomas (1,154 passing yards, 1,117 rushing yards) any kind of seam, and he’s gone.
Prediction: Desert Edge 43, Bradshaw Mountain 19
No. 14 Gilbert Higley (7-3) at No. 3 Tempe (10-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Higley’s defense needs to make a stop. But those have been tough to find, even against a non-playoff team (Apache Junction). Now, Higley is pressed to reinvent itself on offense with both Tyler Bloom and Mason Crossland injured. Tempe, meanwhile, is believing it can go for gold, behind senior quarterback Emanuel Gant, who is within shot of becoming the first player in Arizona preps history to pass for more than 10,000 yards in a career. One thing working for Higley is that it has played a tougher schedule, including games against Saguaro, Queen Creek and Williams Field.
Prediction: Tempe 49, Higley 28
No. 11 Glendale Cactus (8-2) at No. 6 Peoria Sunrise Mountain (9-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Sunrise Mountain’s only loss was to Division II playoff team Glendale Deer Valley. It beat Cactus 49-40 earlier in the season with sophomore quarterback Chase Cord having one of the best games in his career, rushing for 151 yards and four touchdown to go along with more than 100 passing yards. Cactus feels mental mistakes cost it that game and believes a less flawed performance can beat Sunrise Mountain this time around. It will be close.
Prediction: Sunrise Mountain 29, Cactus 28
No. 10 Phoenix Moon Valley (9-1) at No. 7 Peoria (9-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Moon Valley is a resilient bunch, led by senior dual threat quarterback Shannon Burton, who has passed for 1,729 yards and 20 touchdowns and run for 1,163 yards and 17 TDs. Peoria prides itself of defense, and features one of the top linebacker in the state in Frankie Leal. Peoria has maybe the smallest but one of the more dynamic running backs in 5-foot-4, 165-pound Akeem Rutledge, who is averaging 130 rushing yards a game. Watch this one go down to the final seconds.
Prediction: Peoria 27, Moon Valley 24
No. 15 Buckeye (8-2) at No. 2 Gilbert Williams Field (9-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Buckeye is a dangerous team, simply because coach Kelley Moore knows how to coach up a team in a do-or-die game. He led Mesa to an improbable run, reaching the Division I championship game against Chandler Hamilton in the past. Buckeye is a close-bonded team that will try to force Williams Field into passing, because Williams Field features one of the best back in the state in 2,000-plus-yards rusher Braedyn Bushman. But Williams Field’s big, powerful line should pave the way to victory.
Prediction: Williams Field 36, Buckeye 21
Next: Division II breakdown