Desert Vista began the week like it was any other.
The coaching staff implemented the game plan as they completed their to-do list each practice. The intensity picked up as it got deeper into the week and preparation became complete.
Only this isn't any other week.
The Thunder are one win, just 48 minutes on a November Friday night, from advancing to the Division I state championship game.
"We are confident that the work we have done will put us in a position to win," senior Mike Arredondo said. "It has worked out that way so far."
When a team wins 11 of 12 games, as the Thunder have while outscoring the opponent 497 to 149, there is no reason to question the process. The players have learned to trust the coach's game plan and the coaches have in turn realized they will get a great effort each week.
It has Desert Vista in the state semifinals for the third time since 2007, with a chance to become the third Thunder team to make it to the title game, joining the 1998 state champions and the 2007 runners-up.
To do so they will have to defeat a Basha (9-3) team that has seemed to find itself after a rough patch. The Bears are one of the state's better offensive teams while the defense has been the breaking point.
"We like our matchups," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said, choosing his words carefully.
It wasn't said in a bulletin-board fashion, but a show of faith in his team.
The Thunder have been a devastating team all year long, handing seven opponents a loss by 30 or more points, so why wouldn't the coach of these young men expect the same?
"We know they are a good team, but we feel like if we play at our best we can't be beat." Desert Vista junior wide receiver Kaleb Germinaro said.
Basha is in its second year with Bernie Busken running the program as he tries to combine the formula he used to win three state titles with Mesa Mountain View in the late 1990s with today's game.
The Bears have the athletes that seem to be a prerequisite to fielding a team in the Chandler district as they have speed, quickness and talent all over the field.
It really comes together on offense were the Bears average 46.3 points a game, stemming mostly from a passing game that averages 260 yards a game as senior quarterback Kyle Duran (2,898 yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 picks) has plenty of options.
His top two receivers are Nate Phillips (66 catches, 1195 yards, 6 TDs) and Keenan Garland (50, 774, 11).
The running game, led by J.J. Husar (760 yards, 14 TDs), is solid but more of a complement.
Defensively, Basha has had some problems, including the three-game stretch, all defeats, in which the Bears gave up 163 points to Desert Ridge, Perry and Hamilton.
The Bears made some changes before the Hamilton game and Busken has seen a difference since as they beat Maryvale, Tucson and Brophy over the last three weeks.
"We had guys who weren't doing their jobs and replaced them, and it woke them up," Busken told the East Valley Tribune. "It's a hard thing and it's not something you want to do, but they have to play within the scheme. The kids improved and felt better about themselves."
The Thunder went through a similar situation in 2009 when losing became almost accepted in the locker room by a group of seniors.
It seems like eons ago for the Thunder after winning 21 of its last 24 games.
"We expect to win each time we step on the field," Arredondo said. "It wasn't like that three years ago. When something went wrong it snowballed, but that's not the case anymore."
Busken made the changes with some concern not knowing if or how the kids would respond.
"Sure you do, but if you want a chance to make things better and do it right, then you have to," he said. "You either do things the right way and for the team, or you stand by me (on the sideline). Sometimes you jump around thinking you're supposed to be the hero, that's not how it's supposed to be."
Desert Vista has distanced itself from such problems and believes the team-first mentality has the Thunder in place to do something special.
"The goal from the start was winning state," Arredondo said. "We knew we could be very good. We like the underdog role. People didn't think we could get here or think we were one of the top teams, but that doesn't matter because we believe in each other and that's where it all begins."
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