On Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Arizona high school football season will come to an end.
Yes, it's not the norm for high school football championships to be played on a Monday, but due to a scheduling quirk with the Cardinals home schedule, it was the only choice the AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) had since they have an agreement in place with the Cardinals to play their big school championships there.
Whether or not you're a fan of any of the four teams playing really doesn't matter. If you're a football fan, I'd highly recommend making the trip out. You will see great football and some big league talent in both contests.
The Hamilton Huskies will look to become the first ever 5A team to win 15 games in a season when they take on the underdog Desert Ridge Jaguars in the first game at 4:00 p.m.. The Huskies will also look to become the first 5A-I school to three-peat. The Huskies have been nothing short of dominant this decade, having advanced to the big game now nine times and, with a win on Monday night, they can claim their sixth crown since 2001.
Hamilton brings a balanced offensive attack that can hit an opposing defense through their ground game or, with their talented QB, Kyren Poe, they're able to go up top on defenses at any given time. Defensively, they put athletes all over the field and, led by their big defensive tackle and end Shaq Jenkins (15.5 sacks), they control the line of scrimmage and put you in down and distances that make you uncomfortable as an offense.
The Huskies haven't really been challenged for most of the season. Sure, there was the opener against Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in the Sollenberger Classic, and they also had a brief scare against Mountain Ridge midway through the season for a half before finishing off the Mountain Lions. They'll enter the game Monday riding a 39-game win streak which happens to be the fourth longest in the country, as well.
Their opponent, Desert Ridge, wasn't on anyone's radar when the season began. Their coach, Jeremy Hathcock, has done a brilliant job of getting his team to play their best football at the most critical time. What's made it all the more surprising is how they've done it. They lost their starting QB to an injury (knee) late in the season, but that didn't slow down the Jaguars. A team that typically likes to spread the field and sling it all over the yard, the Jags put a new twist in their offense by plugging in Jordan Bacerra at QB and began running a version of the Wildcat. It's one thing to switch your QB on the fly, but to change your offensive philosophy in the middle of a season and still be successful with it speaks volumes about the young men on your squad.
Hathcock is a big barrel-chested guy who has won titles as a player and coach on the high school level and you quickly figure out he's a guy who likes to have people bet against him. There will be plenty of those types come Monday, when his underdog Jaguars take on the Huskies, but don't count this guy or this team out.
In the nightcap, fans will be treated to a long-awaited showdown between the two teams that have claimed the last four titles between them in 5A-II. The Chaparral Firebirds (defending champs) and Centennial Coyotes (champs in ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08) will finally step on the same field and battle for the grand prize. Fans were left feeling cheated last year when the Coyotes were upended in the semifinals by Marcos De Niza, so the long wait of another season has stoked the fires even more.
These are two programs that have great coaching and a wealth of talent that benefits from it. Richard Taylor -- the only coach the Coyotes have ever had -- looks to cement his legacy as one of the real high school coaching greats with his fourth title in five years. At Chaparral, Charlie Ragle has done a masterful job of not only tapping into his talent pool, but massaging egos and dealing with the constant parent-coaching that takes place at a program like Chaparral and should be applauded.
As far as the talent goes in this game, you will see it spread across the field for both of these teams. There will be plenty of speed to catch your eye, as well. The Firebirds boast an explosive offense, much like that of Hamilton, where they can hit you on the ground with Devonte Neal or through the air with junior QB Connor Brewer. Defensively, they get after you with their speed and strength and will make you pay for mistakes. Their linebackers are physical and fast and can cover a lot of ground and with a secondary that's also led by Neal, you better make sure your throws are accurate or you could be looking at a pick six!
For Centennial, not making last year has clearly provided the fuel for this season's run. With only one blemish on their record, the Coyotes enter in a rare position for a championship game in recent years and that's as an underdog. But don't let that fool you. This is the only team in this division that has the necessary speed to match up with the Firebirds and will create some great matchups on both sides of the ball. They don't boast any one big star player, but rather a collection of highly talented players and that's what makes them so tough to defend. Their QB Justin Sanchez is a great competitor and extremely accurate and with players like Gary Ross, Julien Singleton and Hayden Sovacki to throw the ball to, they will challenge the Chaparral secondary.
Bottom line is it's a big stage for big-time talent and fans will be treated to some great high school football. The games will be telecast live on Fox Sports Arizona as well as The Fan 1060 AM, giving it the kind of media coverage you'd expect for big games. I'd encourage you to come out and see the kind of talent that's being raised here in Arizona. You might see a few of these guys playing on Sundays in the same stadium in a few years. It will be a fitting end to another fantastic season of high school football.