As it gets deeper into the football postseason, the separation of talent between teams becomes less with each passing week.
The margin of victory - in theory anyway – should lessen as the top teams keep advancing.
There are many off the field intangibles – coaching advantages, styles of play, momentum etc. – that can trump all of that to give an advantage to one side or the other.
One of the things on the field that can sway the game in a hurry is having a gamebreaker make one of those sudden change-type plays in the midst of a close and competitive game.
As top-seeded Mountain Pointe and 10th-seeded Desert Vista prepare for this week’s 6A Conference quarterfinals, each squad has a clear gamebreaker that just might make a difference.
If Mountain Pointe (11-0) finds itself in a battle with No. 8 Desert Ridge (8-3) on Thursday as the two squads square off for the second time in a month at Karl Kiefer Stadium, the Pride’s Jaydon Brooks might be the difference maker if he can get his hands on a punt.
The same can be said for Desert Vista junior cornerback Alijah Gammage as the Thunder (7-4) travel to Austin Field on Thursday to try and upset No. 2 Chandler (9-2).
Both of the local teams have plenty of playmakers, but Brooks and Gammage have had huge impacts on games with their game-breaking abilities as a return specialist and a knack for interceptions, respectively.
Brooks ranks second nationally in the MaxPreps’ punt return average at 25.9 yards on 19 attempts including four punt returns for scores, but here is the hard to fathom part – he’s had three punt returns and one kickoff return called back because of penalties.
Even if the 5-10, 165-pounder was able to get loose as a direct result of the penalty he still found the end zone on eight different occasions on returns in one season.
There are programs that might go a decade without four punt return for a score let alone eight.
“He’s been dynamic,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “He has great vision, can make people miss and he is fast. It’s everything you want back. He’s made good decisions most of time and when he breaks one it really changes the game.”
Brooks, who averaged 12.6 yards a return last year, relishes the opportunity to have the ball in his hands and the whole field in front of him.
“I like being able improvise and make something happen,” said Brooks, who had two punt returns for scores in one game against Gilbert. “Sometimes when the offense and defense is in a stalemate the coaches will look at me and say ‘Jaydon, we need something on this one.’ I make sure I catch it first and then I look for the crease.”
Brooks, who has more than 1,400 total yards on the year, only had two returns for six yards against Desert Ridge in the 27-13 win on Oct. 14.
“If I get a chance I hope I can get another one,” he said. “They did a good job last time, but this is a different game. This is the playoffs and big plays make a difference this time of the year.”
Gammage’s impact since becoming eligible in Week 6 after transferring from Valley Christian has coincided with Desert Vista’s late season surge.
The Thunder have gone 5-1 since the junior was inserted in the lineup and started getting interceptions in bunches.
Gammage has seven interceptions in his six games including two in last week’s 28-14 win over No. 7 Mountain View.
“Everyone was picking on me because I went to a small school,” he said. “As long as they keep testing me I will make a play.”
The first interception against the Toros came on a deep pattern where he out-leapt the wide receiver, but the second one showed his football instincts.
Mountain View was facing a third and five, and was looking to do a quick drop and throw to the outside to get the first down. Instead there was a lightening flash in front of the receiver for a diving interception.
“I saw the coach look at the quarterback, and the quarterback look at the wide receiver,” Gammage said. “I knew it was coming, and the situation in the game on that drive let me go for it.”
This week brings a much different challenge with Chandler’s athletes including wide receivers Johnny Johnson and Gunner Romney.
“Chandler is really good,” Gammage said. “I was brought up to step up to a challenge and this is the next one.”
– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.
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