It’s nearly upon us.
The 11-week gauntlet of high school football is just four and a half weeks away.
Big-time players will shine, unknowns get their highlight on television and wins will be celebrated at local pizza parlors late into Friday night.
There will be games that are labeled as classic before the lights even go out at the stadium. It will be talked about for years to come. One that changes the direction of a program and makes a legend out of an individual whose name will always be tied to that signature win.
We think it will be one of the 10 games listed below, but it could be like a microburst — boom — that comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone.
Until it becomes known, here are some of the most anticipated games in the 2014 football season.
Aug 22: Poston Butte at Queen Creek
There isn’t a football fan out there who isn’t intrigued by the idea of Paul Moro, the king of the White Mountains, coming to the Valley and competing at the Division II level. This is the first look at Poston Butte and what strides have been made under Moro, who won 13 state titles for at Blue Ridge in 30 years. It’s not going to be easy considering the challenge Queen Creek and 2,000-yard rusher Weston Barlow presents out of the gate.
Aug. 23: Mountain Pointe vs. Reed, Las Vegas
The second game of the Sollenberger Classic shouldn’t get second billing. The Pride are riding high after last year’s epic season and this will be the first glimpse (Fox Sports Arizona Plus) at the new edition of the program after replacing 14 starters. Reed is in a similar situation as most of its top players from last season’s 12-2 state runner-up squad were lost to graduation. New starting quarterback Jason Gilmore is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and is a dual threat. It will be interesting to see if the Pride return from their trip to Nevada as confident as they were last season.
Aug. 29: Chandler at Centennial
The Wolves believe this is their year. They got to the semifinals. It’s the next stepping stone after beating Hamilton in the regular season for the first time. Bryce Perkins, Chase Lucas and Co. are ready to change the perception from talent factory to a state champion. A good indicator will be the opener against Centennial, although the Coyotes have lost some luster in recent years. Richard Taylor will have Centennial back in position, but if the Wolves are good as expected, a score similar to last season (41-21) might be in the offing.
Aug 29: Desert Vista at Basha
The Thunder are coming off a 4-6 season, and Basha is in a bit of a transition (new coach, hit hard by graduation and transfers) so both teams are a bit of an unknown. The outcome will be very telling. Desert Vista played a mostly seniors through the end of the year despite the struggle to win, so there will a lot of new faces outside of running back T.J. Roberts, linebacker Saxon McDonald and quarterback Alex Farina. Basha’s high-profile coaching search ended up with longtime assistant Gerald Todd, who said he will keep the same offense former coach Bernie Busken ran. It should mean the Bears will throw a lot to receiver Doc O’Connor and touted sophomore Ryan Kelley should get his first start at quarterback.
Sept. 19: Chandler at Mountain Pointe
When this game comes around, the hype will be it’s a state championship preview. Hopefully, it will be more competitive than last year when the Pride rolled 38-14 at Chandler despite the fact quarterback Antonio Hinojosa started slow and Wesley Payne hurt his elbow and never returned. Surely, the Wolves remember it all too well and will be ready to try and knock the Pride off their lofty perch. The speedy defense did a job of containing Bryce Perkins last season until he piled on some yardage after the game was essentially decided. Not sure the ASU commit can be slowed like that again by a whole-new defensive backfield.
Sept. 26: Mountain Pointe at Hamilton
The combatants of the last two Division I state title games meet once again. The Pride have taken over the momentum in this series having won the last two regular-season meetings and last year’s state title game. Can they keep it rolling and extend it to four wins in the last five? No one has had that kind of success against Hamilton. The Huskies have won 59 in a row at home, so a loss at Hamilton would be awful rare. Mountain Pointe will have just played Chandler, so the Pride will either be really confident or fighting to keep it from becoming a losing streak.
Oct. 3: Chandler at Hamilton
This one always rocks despite the fact Hamilton has only lost one in the history of the matchup. This might be the first time since Year One that the Huskies are considered No. 3 in the preseason rankings, and you better believe Steve Belles is loving it. He will make sure the Huskies know full well that their rival Wolves are considered the more talented team. Of course, talent hasn’t always translated into wins. Caleb Peart (a Vanderbilt commit at LB) is one of the known quantities for the Huskies and he will anchor the defense, but by October, there will be plenty of Hamilton stars.
Oct. 3: Desert Vista at Mountain Pointe
The Thunder (and the Pride to a certain extent) kept last season’s Ahwatukee Bowl close (14-6) up until the half, proving the adage about the emotion of a rivalry can be a great equalizer. Mountain Pointe ended up running away with it (49-6) after a couple of pick-6s made it lopsided. The Thunder lead the all-time series (10-7). Thunder coach Dan Hinds is 6-6 during that time and Pride coach Norris Vaughan is 4-1. If Desert Vista is going to win at Mountain Pointe, someone like T.J. Roberts is going to have to get loose a few times on explosive plays.
Oct. 17: Williams Field at Queen Creek
These two teams are the class of the Southeast Valley in Division III. Both squads lost a lot of firepower from last year, but they have the types of programs to reload quickly. The Bulldogs have made the state title game two years in a row, winning it all in 2012, but lost to Williams Field in the regular season last year in lopsided fashion (42-17). The Bulldogs, however, won the semifinal battle 31-28. This coming year will feature 2,000-yard rusher Weston Barlow as he enters the year on the short list for player of the year, while the Black Hawks will have a bunch of new faces, but it is clear coach Steve Campbell will have them close to 10 wins again.
Oct. 24: Mountain View at Red Mountain
The Brown Road battle always gets the blood flowing. Red Mountain won handily (44-20) at Mountain View. Is this the year Chad DeGrenier’s system pays dividends or are the Toros destined to 6-5 seasons year after year as Mountain View is no longer the pre-eminent program in Mesa. Red Mountain has quality talent — Diego Hernandez especially — returning and just might be the class of the state’s third-biggest city.
Aug. 29 — Tempe at Maricopa; Pinnacle at Red Mountain; Horizon at Marcos de Niza; Aug. 30 — Valley Christian at Northwest Christian; Sept. 5 — Macros de Niza at Chaparral; Centennial at Basha; Sept. 12 — Seton Catholic at Snowflake; Hamilton at Pinnacle; Sept 19 — Brophy at Red Mountain; Oct. 2 — Highland at Gilbert; Oct. 3 — Saguaro at Queen Creek; Oct. 10 — Hamilton at Basha; Oct. 24 — Chandler at Basha; Desert Ridge at Desert Mountain.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com