Hamilton defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham has the quickness to get to the quarterback and the strength to stop the run and he is expected to the area's top defensive players.

By Tim Hacker

Hamilton can match Mountain View on Saturday with its eighth big-school state championship, while Mountain Pointe is in search of its first championship.

The edge in tradition certainly goes to the Huskies. But after an early-season loss to Mountain Pointe and with a less explosive offense than many of those past title teams, Hamilton enters the Division I championship game as the underdog.

Just as it did a year ago.

“People even at our own school are telling us we’re about to lose,” Hamilton linebacker Santana Sterling said during Wednesday’s media day event at Wolfley’s Neighborhood Grill in north Scottsdale. “We keep that in the back of our heads and use it as motivation. That’s all you can do. But it really doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s about how we come out to play.”

The Huskies faced naysayers a year ago, and bounced back from a 17-14 season-opening loss to Mountain Pointe for a 31-16 victory in the title game.

“Last year we were the underdog and this year we’re coming into the same situation,” running back Tyrell Smith said. “But we’re not fazed by that. We won last year and we’re trying to do the same thing again.

“We’ve always had doubters. Everyone wants to see Hamilton fall because we’ve been the best for so long. We’re not bragging about it but we’re coming in as if we are (the best).”

Players said previously overcoming perception can have a lasting impact. Coach Steve Belles said he won’t mention last year in his pregame speeches leading up to Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“This year is different,” Belles said. “They’re a better team than they were last year. ... They’re a team that can rebound from a mistake here or there. I don’t think we are. They’re explosive and can score from anywhere on the field. We’re more of a grind team. We have a couple big-play threats, but nothing like what they have.

“That’s just being perfectly honest. If we do everything right I think we have a great chance at winning the game.”

The Huskies (11-2) didn’t have left tackle Casey Tucker, among others, is their 37-27 loss at Mountain Pointe nine weeks ago. Tucker is back and will play a big role in Hamilton controlling the clock with its run game.

Defensive end Qualen Cunningham also will play after missing Monday’s semifinal against Chandler with gout.

“He’ll play. He’ll be ready to go,” Belles said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Texas A&M commit.

“He won’t miss state senior year,” Sterling said. “He won’t miss it.”

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