State football playoffs are full of Cinderella stories

State football playoffs are full of Cinderella stories


State football playoffs are full of Cinderella stories


The state football playoff seeds are set, but they might as well be land mines for some of the state’s top teams.

There is a history of a low seed not only breaking through but making an improbable run.

In 1985, Glendale Apollo finished the regular-season 5-5, losing its last regular-season game to a two-win team. Four weeks later, it was beating unbeaten Phoenix St. Mary’s in the big-schools state championship game, before Reggie McGill broke loose late for a touchdown and an 11-7 win.

Nineteen years later, before he started collecting his five state championship trophies at Chandler Hamilton, Steve Belles took a 16th-seeded Glendale Mountain Ridge team to top-seed Phoenix Paradise Valley in the first round.

RELATED: Top high school football playoffs matchups

Mountain Ridge’s shocker over Paradise Valley carried it three more weeks, before falling to Hamilton 31-7 in the title game.

More recently, 13th-seeded Nogales stunned No.3 Tucson Sabino 36-34 in the first round of the 2012 Division III playoffs.

“Three things are needed to make it to the state championship game,” said Belles, who is leading his top-seeded Hamilton team into the Division I playoffs Friday night against Surprise Valley Vista. “You have to have great quarterback play. You have to play great defense. And you need great special-teams play.

“And, if somebody wishes you luck, you take it. You never turn down luck.”

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This year’s dark horse?

Most Division I coaches point to Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, a No.10 seed that went 7-4, but was in all of its losses but the first one, a 43-7 loss to Hamilton way back in August that taught Sandra Day O’Connor how to win.

After winning a total of eight games in the past three seasons, Sandra Day O’Connor began a turnaround, actually, in a 49-35 loss at last year’s Division I semifinalist, Mesa Desert Ridge.

Sandra Day O’Connor was at the Desert Ridge 1, only down by a touchdown, before it got stopped just short of the goal line in the waning moments.

Taren Morrison then tore off a 99-yard run, but it didn’t tear out the heart of these overachievers.

The next week, Sandra Day O’Connor beat Avondale Westview 17-13, slowing down its vaunted Wing-T.

High school football: Players of the year candidates

Again, in Sandra Day O’Connor’s case, it starts at quarterback.

Nobody knew how good junior Bailin Markridge would be until he threw three touchdown passes against Desert Ridge.

“That quarterback, I’m telling you, I’m not sure there is a better junior quarterback in the state,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “He’s unbelievable. I like (Brophy Prep’s Cade) Knox. But I think he’s legit. You can put him on any team on any offense.”

But Sandra Day O’Connor didn’t need a touchdown pass from Markridge to beat Phoenix Horizon 28-17 last week to get ready for Friday’s first-round game at No.7 Chandler Basha.

Omar Mills had three of his seven interceptions on the season against Phoenix Horizon senior Dalton Sneed, regarded as one of the top three quarterbacks in the state.

“People expected us to be like the last few years,” Markridge said. “The group of seniors that we have, the group of everybody that we have, just showed up every single week.

“Everybody thinks we shouldn’t be ranked 10th and we shouldn’t be playing Basha. But we proved it last week against Horizon that we can play with anybody.”

Five years ago, Mesa lost its last regular-season game to Hamilton 43-22, before becoming the Cinderella story of the big-schools playoffs.

Bordow: Quarterback play could be deciding factor as Division I playoffs unfold

Led by a 150-pound running back, Mesa pulled upsets of Mesa Red Mountain, Phoenix Brophy Prep and Phoenix Mountain Pointe, before losing to Hamilton in the final.

“There are always those teams that are flying under the radar, peaking at the right time,” said Peoria Centennial coach Richard Taylor, whose top-10 nationally ranked team lost to Tempe Marcos de Niza in the 2009 Division II semifinals.

Here is a look at three other teams with a shot at playing Cinderella in the playoffs:

Division II: No. 12 Marcos de Niza

The Padres (6-4) draw fifth-seed Glendale Deer Valley (8-2), which lost its only games to top-seeded Peoria Liberty and third-seed Centennial.

If confidence is gained from a loss, then the Padres are oozing with it after scoring five touchdowns, two more than anybody else has scored against Scottsdale Saguaro in a 61-35 loss last week.

There are enough athletes and speed to match Deer Valley and give Marcos de Niza hope to pull the first-round upset.

Obert: Div. II playoff bracket breakdown

Division III: No. 14 Gilbert Higley

Everything that could go wrong is going wrong for a team that hasn’t played much if any defense and is down two quarterbacks.

But coach Eddy Zubey has playoff experience with other teams. He led Mesa Westwood to its last playoff win in 2007. And No.3 Tempe (10-0) hasn’t had nearly as difficult a schedule as Higley (7-3) has played with all of its losses coming against the division’s big three of Saguaro, Queen Creek and Gilbert Williams Field.

Obert: Div. III playoff bracket breakdown

Division IV: No. 12 Florence

The Gophers (6-4) have only two seniors on defense and two on offense, and yet it was a PAT away from sending last week’s game against heavily favored Coolidge into overtime.

Florence now brims with confidence in the rematch this week at No.5 Coolidge (9-1).

Obert: Div. IV playoff bracket breakdown


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