Arizona high school football has grown from a state with a couple of elite teams to one with several programs that can challenge both in-state rivals and powerful teams around the country.
With the performance of Basha and Liberty this season coming on the heels of both schools’ growth in recent years, they have proven to be in reach of the mantle as the best team in Arizona.
The creation of the Open Division in 2019 revamped the playoff format to feature the best teams regardless of division for a championship. Before this, there were long swatches in which one team played ruler, and the others fell into line.
In the highest division, Hamilton High School dominated for a decade, winning seven championships from 2003-12. Chandler High School broke through the division next, winning five championships in six years starting in 2014.
Centennial High School led 5A — except when it jumped to 6A and won there too. It had four titles from 2014-18, three of which came at 5A and one at the highest level of 6A.
Saguaro High School was the most dominant of all, winning the title 11 of the 13 years from 2006-18. Its reign of 4A was only stopped when the Open Division allowed it to face off against the Hamiltons and Chandlers for the championship. In the first year, the Sabercats beat Hamilton but fell to Chandler in the title game; in 2021, Saguaro took down both en route to the trophy.
Basha and Liberty have now officially entered the fray, vying to be the next team to build a champion and perhaps even a dynasty for the 2020s.
Basha’s defensive slugfest against No. 8 Chandler this Halloweekend came one week after a win over Hamilton.
They rose in part from not only convincing players to not transfer with Arizona’s open enrollment policies but also by getting transfers from schools such as Hamilton. They have six players from the class of 2023 ranked as three-star recruits or better on the 247Sports Composite, including four-star cornerback Cole Martin, an Oregon commit. They have four more in the class of 2024, including a pair of four-stars in cornerback Miles Lockhart and quarterback Demond Williams Jr.
With its in-state victories and an early-season win over Los Alamitos in California, Basha has firmly entrenched itself as a leader of Arizona high school football this season.
The team’s only loss this season? The Liberty Lions, who at 8-0, have also beaten teams in-state and out. The Lions crushed Valor Christian—which might be the best team in Colorado—by a score of 50-7 and then beat Saguaro in their next game.
Though Liberty is rather new to the Super 25, it is by no means a new team on the block. They reached the Open Division semifinals in both of the last two years. They fell to the Wolves in heartbreaking fashion both times — in 2020, failing to convert a game-winning two-point conversion, and in 2021, holding a big lead entering the fourth quarter but instead losing in overtime.
Liberty hasn’t gotten over the hump, but it will get another chance to do so with its raging defense leading the charge. The Lions are firmly in the national eye and will look to maintain its spot in the Super 25 next week as it faces the 7-1 Centennial Coyotes.
Chandler, Hamilton and Saguaro have already been put on alert this season. Centennial is next on the docket. Basha and Liberty are no longer on the horizon — they have arrived, and it’s not clear who will be able to stop them come Open Division playoff time.
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