The doldrums of summer are upon us, which means we’re mere weeks from the 11-week marathon that is the high school football season.
Teams from across the state will soon faceoff on the grass and artificial turf gridirons to stake their claim as the top team in the Grand Canyon State.
We’re fortunate enough to have a half-dozen teams that have a shot at glory this fall, with Canyon del Oro, Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, Marana, Mountain View and Pusch Ridge Christian Academy all featuring talent-laden squads.
Picking the best of the best contests from such a talent-rich region is difficult, one surely worth doing.
Here are the high school football games that I’m most excited to see in-person this fall:
1. Mountain View at
Friday, Aug. 23
The opening weekend of the football season has its share of must-watch contests, but none feature a richer bevy of storylines as this one. At the forefront of narrative in this week one clash is the return of first-year Mountain View coach Matt Johnson to Ironwood Ridge, the program that he shaped and left last season. Johnson won a state championship and never missed the playoffs during his 10-year run at Ironwood Ridge, and will look to beat the Nighthawks in a battle of schools that are roughly 3.5 miles apart. This game will also feature rising Nighthawk senior Octavio Audry-Cobos, who accounted for more than 1,000 yards of offense at quarterback last season. Coach James Hardy Jr. wouldn’t share where Audry-Cobos will line up offensively this season, but hinted that the do-it-all athlete will see plenty of playing time this fall. The matchup to watch is Audry-Cobos against Mountain View senior linebacker Aaron Logsdon, who should be an all-state selection this season for the Lions. This game will provide all the on-field fireworks you can ask for, and will act as a tantalizing appetizer for what’s sure to be a phenomenal 2019 regular season in Southern Arizona.
2. Horizon at Marana
Friday, Aug. 23
Year two of the Louie Ramirez era at Marana High School begins with a much-anticipated home showdown with Scottsdale’s Horizon. The Tigers have a laundry list of questions heading into the season, starting with how rising junior Kai Spencer will do at quarterback, in place of record-breaker Trenton Bourguet, who is now a walk-on freshman at Arizona State University. The Tigers also will need to find a new go-to receiver after Treyson and Corben Bourguet transferred out and Diego Miranda and Tariq Jordan graduated last year. It’s a tall task, but one Ramirez has shown himself capable of answering with a talent-rich roster full of young, but hungry players. It will be fascinating to see how the Tigers fare in their week one showdown, which is followed by back-to-back road games against powers Fairfax and Catalina Foothills. Expect the Tigers’ regular season opener to feature a litany of highlight reel plays, lighting up the scoreboard while enthralling those that trek to Marana to catch the contest in-person.
3. Flowing Wells at
Canyon del Oro
Thursday, Aug. 22
One of the best games of the 2018 season was the opening week clash between the Dorados and Caballeros. That game, which the Caballeros won, 38-37, introduced the region to running back Stevie Rocker, who gashed Flowing Wells for 173 yards on 21 carries and a trio of touchdowns. Fast-forward a year, and Rocker and the Dorados have built much of their offseason narrative around exacting revenge on their southerly neighbors. Both teams return much of their roster from last season, with Rocker leading the charge on the ground, while do-it-all tight end and receiver Jayden Bracy, who had 242 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, returning for Dustin Peace’s squad. Expect a similarly high-scoring start to the season in this one, with both sides featuring a plethora of offensive talent and fast-paced, high scoring schemes that will light up the scoreboard in the opening week of the year.
4. Sabino at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy
Friday, Oct. 18
Jerry Harris’ Lions team will be looking for their own revenge after an uncharacteristically down year in 2018, going 5-6 and losing in the first round of the 3A playoffs. A key to such a turnaround will be the team’s ability to handle their crosstown rivals in mid-October, with the two 3A South powers matching up in the shadows of the Catalinas on Oct. 18. The Lions should feature one of the best running attacks in the state, with rising junior Evan Lovett in fine form and a cast of slotbacks that can slash through defenses with ease. Lovett and company will need to perform to beat the Sabercats, who are coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2018, and who have made the playoffs every year since 2004. Expect Harris and his team to come out fired up for this one, with local bragging rights and a possible region title on the line.
5. Casteel at Mountain View
Friday, Sept. 13
Johnson’s team will be in for a dandy of a contest in mid-September when Casteel comes to town. The Colts have quickly become one of the best teams in the Valley, posting a 9-3 mark last year and going 14-0 and winning a state title as a 3A squad in 2017. The Colts will have to find a new gunslinger to carry them forward, with Gunner Cruz taking his talents to Pullman to play for Mike Leach and Washington State University. The team’s pair of underclassmen quarterbacks threw for a combined 64 yards last year, so that will be a major question for the team this fall. Expect last year’s leading rusher, in rising junior Jayce Knutson, to step his game up to make up for Cruz’s departure, coming off a solid sophomore campaign where he ran for 596 yards and 9 touchdowns. A win against the Colts could propel Johnson and his team to the forefront of the 5A Sonoran region title chase but doing so is easier said than done. Expect Johnson’s ground-and-pound offense to face its stiffest test of the year against the Colts’ defense in this one, with a low-scoring, but highly entertaining contest for all that make their attend the midseason contest.