5A-I football offers intrigue with first-round matchups

November 11, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

The 5A-I state football playoffs offers some suspense in the early going. Perhaps more so than in recent years so fans should rejoice in that aspect.

Chandler coach Jim Ewan hasn't retired yet, but if he were just a fan this week he'd be torn on which game to take in.

"Hamilton has had a great year and deserve where they're at," Ewan said. "But you look at everybody else and the matchups. It's exciting. Some good teams, the better seeds will go home if they aren't playing their best football this week."

Hamilton (5A-I) is the prohibitive favorite  to be sure with an unbeaten record and defending state-champion status. And it is a bit of an odd year when Mesa Mountain View and Brophy are double-digit rather than single-digit seeds and qualify with .500 records. Still their respective opponents, Desert Vista and Mountain Ridge, can't and won't dismiss either as a comfortable first-round win.

With that said, let's dive in for a brief look at each 5A-I matchup:


No. 16 Westwood (5-6) at No. 1 Hamilton (11-0): Westwood started fast and was excited particularly with its win over last year's runner-up, Mesa, early. But the Warriors won just two of their final seven games and did not record a win over a playoff team. They made a better showing in their season finale to Gilbert. Still their reward for making the playoffs is likely a quick exit as Hamilton bids for a 37th consecutive victory.

No. 9 North Canyon (7-3) at  No. 8 Mesquite (8-2): North Canyon opened in fine fashion reeling off six wins in iots first seven games. A-season-ending injury to quarterback Dominic Portocarrero in the Chaparral game took the Rattlers on a different course. They lost  two of their last three games. The losses to Horizon and St. Mary's were by a touchdown or less and both late. The latter saw North Canyon blow a 21-7 lead, a loss in overtime and cost it a first-round home playoff game. Mesquite had a  consistent year week to week. The Wildcats losses were to Chaparral and Basha (# 2 in 5A-I). Both must be playing top-notch football since the winner is destined to face Hamilton in the quarters.

No. 12 Red Mountain (6-4) at No. 5 Mountain Pointe (8-2): Red Mountain had momentum and a healthy dose of confidence after upending 5A-II power Centennial a couple weeks ago. Some of that  has been lost in falling to Hamilton and Desert Vista the last two weeks. Although it could be argued that Hamilton and Desert Vista may be the two best teams in 5A-I at this point. Mountain Pointe, which lost to Desert Ridge a couple weeks ago, rebounded nicely in knocking off playoff teams Westwood, Perry and Marcos de Niza in its last three games. All in all this is not your an open and shut 12 vs. 5 matchup. Far from it.

No. 13 Brophy (5-5) at No. 4 Mountain Ridge (8-2): Strange year for Brophy. A young team that was getting better and better as it went, lost momentum and a key player when QB Tyler Bruggman went down with a broken ankle just prior to the Mesa game. The Broncos have had a month to figure out how to proceed. They've beaten Mesa and Yuma without Bruggman (neither made the playoffs) and were thumped by Desert Vista. Mountain Ridge's ability rests somewhere in between. The Mountain Lions beat Mountain View and Gilbert out of the gate by a touchdown each. Its losses are to unbeatens Hamilton and Sandra Day O'Connor. Again not a gimme game for the No. 4 seed with Brophy and its postseason prowess of late. The teams met in the first round last year with the seeds nearly reversed (Mountain Ridge was 14 and Brophy was 3). The Broncos won, 24-0.

No. 14 Mountain View (5-5) at No. 3 Desert Vista (8-2): Mountain View clearly is not as talented as it has been in recent years, thus the low seed in the playoffs. The Toros lack a game-breaker, have not been opportunistic and have turned the ball over much more than they are able to overcome. Their  five losses are to very good teams -- Chaparral, Basha, Mountain Ridge, Chandler and Mesquite. The Toros best wins are over Gilbert and Sunnyside, low seeds in 5A-I and 5A-II. Desert Vista is on a roll with six straight wins, lincluding Chandler, Red Mountain and Brophy. Its only losses are to Hamilton and Mountain Pointe. The Thunder are this year's Team-Turnaround (2-8 to 8-2).

No. 11 St. Mary's (4-7) at No. 6 Salpointe (9-1): St. Mary's removed all doubt whether or not it would make the playoffs with its remarkable come-from-behind win over North Canyon. And while the Knights record of 4-7  doesn't shout playoff team nine of their 11 opponents made the playoffs in 5A-I or 5A-II. Three of the losses were to the lone unbeatens in the 5A conference (Hamilton, Chaparral and Sandra Day O'Connor). Salpointe has played good football coming off its probation and will be a typical opponent for the Knights. Salpointe's only loss was a thrashing at the hands of Hamilton.

No. 10 Desert Ridge (7-3) at No. 7 Chandler (7-3): Chandler coach Jim Ewan must have been rubbing his old St. Mary's jersey last Friday because the Knights' win over North Canyon boosted Chandler to No. 7 (the opposite bracket of Hamilton). The Wolves still have work to do to make a potential rematch with Hamilton happen beginning with Desert Ridge. Chandler has been able to get a little healthier and virtually gave QB Brett Hundley a week off last week at Trevor Browne. Desert Ridge now has junior Jordan Becerra piloting the offense and the East Valley Region champs bring a different (run) look than the pass-happy bunch with Parker Rasmussen at the controls. It most likely will take 30-35 points to win this one.

No. 15 Gilbert (5-6) at No. 2 Basha (9-1): Gilbert, despite an 0-3 start, won its way to the playoffs with a victory over Westwood in the finale. This is the only rematch from a regular-season meeting in the first round. That meeting took place on Sept. 23 and was a tale of two halves. Gilbert  took a 13-0 lead to intermission and then watched mistakes and a handful of short passes that turned into long touchdowns for Basha become a 38-13 romp for the Bears. Basha gives up its share of yards on defense, but ultimately is stingy giving up points (110 in 10 games). The Bears allowed 20 points twice (a loss to Cibola and win over Mesquite). They are dangerous with the pass, particularly in the the last month with quarterback Kyle Duran hooking up with take your pick -- Dejzon Walker, Nate Phillips or Devin Reed.