The action on the field, regardless of who is healthy and who isn’t, will take care of itself.
The aftermath just might be more intriguing.
When Mountain Pointe (5-0) hosts Hamilton (4-0) tonight, Sept. 27, one team will win and probably celebrate as their student body rushes the field at Karl Kiefer Stadium; the other will walk off the field disappointed after a huddled talk with the coaching staff.
The first meeting since the Huskies won the state title game 31-16 is being billed as the Division I game of the year and a precursor to this year’s state title game on Nov. 30.
There are plenty of teams — Desert Ridge and Westview especially — that might think otherwise and the bracket would have to fall just right, but the consensus among observers: this is only round one.
So if it truly is, then who has the advantage in the rematch?
“The team that loses has an extra edge because it came up short the first time,” Mountain Pointe associate head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Lauer said. “Great teams don’t need something extra to play for, but it doesn’t hurt, either.”
It’s tough to tell how much it truly helps, but research shows it has only helped in recent years.
Since 2004 the eventual state championship qualifiers in the two largest football divisions have met seven times in the regular season. The result in the state title game ended up being the same in five of those games.
Hamilton has been involved all four times in the big division as the Huskies won both meetings in 2008 against Brophy and 2009 against Mesa. Desert Vista was able to knock off Hamilton in the second meeting in 2012 and then the Huskies reversed the result last year against Mountain Pointe.
“We’ve been on both sides of it,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “If you won there is a confidence level there. If you lost then you can take the approach of needing to be better prepared.
“It’s a long away from happening. We have to play each other this week and that’s all we are focused on.”
It’s what most of the state is focused on, however, both teams have been nationally ranked this season; and neither team wanted to play in the regular season, but were essentially forced to by the AIA. Then there was the heated discussion between Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper and Belles after the latter showed up on the Pride’s sidelines in Las Vegas to open the season.
While it makes for great fodder, the players are only worried about playing great football.
“We are confident we can get the job done,” Pride senior linebacker Trey Lauer said. “We showed last week that we’re ready to play and that’s what we expect to do again this week. The coaches will put us in a spot to be successful and it’s up to us to execute to the best of our ability.”
Mountain Pointe has been doing just that, dispatching of Bishop Gorman in Week 1, three inferior opponents, and Chandler rather easily.
Hamilton is being viewed as vulnerable because of the last two weeks. The Huskies had to hold on to beat Pinnacle on Sept. 12 and followed it up last week by squeaking past Liberty (Nev.), which was manhandled by Salpointe Catholic a month earlier.
“We are playing well with eight starters out,” Belles said. “I think we had players step up in their place and that’s what we needed to see.”
It is unknown whether or not anyone if any of those eights players, including offensive tackle Casey Tucker and linebacker Santana Sterling, will see the field as he, smartly, wouldn’t give a status update earlier this week.
Mountain Pointe is without linebacker Wesley Payne (dislocated elbow) but with his approach to the game it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he wrapped the elbow and gave it a go.
“I’m wanting to go back this week to be honest, but I know that wouldn’t be smart,” he said.
The Pride is being viewed as the favorite by most as its weapons on offense should be able to find some running room against a defense that has more Division I prospects than most Arizona Division I schools get in a five-year period.
The real difference is when Hamilton has the ball. Mountain Pointe has some size, athletes and speed to make up for mistakes.
“They are faster on defense (than last year),” Belles said. “When you have a pair of lockdown corners (Markell Simmons and Dominique Fenstermacher) like they do, you can do a lot defensively and that’s what they do.
“Our offense is kind of evolving and we are going to have to grind it out.”
In the state title game, Hamilton held the ball most of the first half (18 plays to Pride’s 2 in the early going) and it might be the key again in this meeting. If the Husky offense can sustain drives with its talented offensive line, it just might be enough to put Mountain Pointe, which has trailed only for 4 minutes and 11 seconds all season, in a difficult position.
“Hamilton is as physical as we are,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “The biggest difference between us and Hamilton is we have to play four or five guys both ways. We lose Payne, we lose two starters. I look at Hamilton on film and they look as good and formidable as ever.
“If they are going to be fired up for anyone other than Chandler it is Mountain Pointe.”
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