Posted: Friday, November 25, 2016 6:11 pm
The first quarter of a football game is anything but sudden death.
The 6A Conference state title game on Saturday just might the closest thing to it.
The first 12 minutes, or even less, for that matter, could very well be critical in determining the outcome between No. 1 Mountain Pointe and No. 2 Chandler.
Usually the first couple of drives involve a feeling out process for a long back-and-forth battle.
This one just might be different when they kickoff at 7 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Pride (13-0) absolutely trounced Chandler 52-7 on Sept. 8. It means a fast start by Mountain Pointe could very well put the Wolves in a here-we-go-again mode.
Then again if Chandler (11-2) grabs the early lead and momentum it is a continuation of one of the more dominant stretches in recent memory.
If that is the scenario it squarely puts the Pride in a position of unknown.
“We can’t panic if we get behind early,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan said. “We will do what we do and stay the course.”
Mountain Pointe hasn’t trailed all season and until last week’s 21-14 squeaker against No. 13 Red Mountain, the Pride only had one opponent have a fourth quarter drive that could have tied the game.
And that was over with 10 minutes left.
“Getting off to a fast start is going to be so important,” Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said. “Especially from a psyche standpoint.
“For us if we get down, do we think about the first game? For them they haven’t been behind early, and we haven’t been much either. We want to get off early and see how they react to it.”
Mountain Pointe feels like last week’s game – losing a 14-0 lead and having to dig deep for a little extra to win a tie game in the fourth quarter – came at the perfect time.
“That just happened last week,” senior offensive lineman Eddie Rivas said. “We were tested and we pulled it out. We know that’s something we can do after winning all of our games pretty easy.”
It was the surprise game of the week as senior quarterback Noah Grover, who returned after a six week layoff, was out of sorts and came at a cost as four starters, including Rivas, came out of the game dinged up. Vaughan is hopeful all will be ready to go as the Pride tries for the program’s second title in four seasons, but was unsure as of Tuesday’s media day.
“To win a state championship you have to be lucky and healthy,” he said. “Hopefully we will be really lucky because we are not very healthy.”
The Pride has one of the top defenses in the state, and has the size and speed to match up with Chandler. The Wolves haven’t faced much a challenge since losing to the Pride, outscoring opponents 508-156 over the last nine games.
It all adds to feeling that the Pride comes into the game reeling a bit and the Wolves, who looked to win their second title in three years, playing better than just about anyone in the state.
“I think our kids are more focused than they were the first time,” Aguano said of his players, who held a meeting without the coaches early in the week. “We are playing better football right now. Mountain Pointe is a physical and fast football team, and very athletic. They match up well against us all across the board.”
The Pride have imposed their will up front on teams all year long as the offense averages 310.4 yards a game on the ground and the defensive line often spikes a running back behind the line of scrimmage.
The Wolves, however, are similar in size and physical play on both sides of the ball. The close encounters up front are going to go a long way in determining who ends up on the stage at midfield Saturday night.
“I think we have to posses the ball and limit Chandler’s snaps,” Vaughan said. “Defensively, we are really good and we think we can do some things. They have been playing with the chains in their favor. We have to be able to get first downs and not turn the ball over.”
The Chandler offense, which has been led by sophomore quarterback Jacob Conover all year long, is ready for the challenge of Mountain Pointe’s defense, which has held opponents to two touchdowns or less nine times.
“We never panic and just get ready for the next play,” senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson said. “I think we are rolling a lot more as a team. The work we put in has us prepared, and we have believed all along (since the Mountain Pointe game) we were never going to lose again.”
One team has to come Saturday night when the 2016 season comes to end.
“At this time of the year the season is kind of like life,” Vaughan said. “You go through this journey and you have ups and downs all of the time. You lose people in your life. It is a long journey.
“And it is defined by one more game.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda
By the numbers
Avg. rush yards 265.3 310.3
Avg. pass yards 257.1 139.8
All-purpose yards 545.9 556.2
Total TDs 77 80
Points per game 48.3 44.5
Pts allowed avg. 22.3 12.3
Tackles for a loss 61 63.5
Sacks 29 32
QB hurries 82 82
INTs by defense 13 21