After intercepting his pass, MP’s Isaiah Palo-Mao tries to jump over Chandler’s Jacob Conover (17) downfield. Watching is brother Matthew Palo-Mao. | By Greg Macafee AFN Sports Editor
Tonight, Sept. 8, two of the top high school football teams in Arizona will battle it out in a rematch of the 2016 Class 6A state championship – a game that ended with the Chandler Wolves capturing their second state title in three years by defeating Mountain Pointe Pride.
While their seasons ended differently in 2016, the two teams have traveled similar paths since that day in December.
Both teams have lost top players to graduation, including Isaiah Palo-Moa for Mountain Pointe and T.J. Green for Chandler, who were among other great players that contributed to their successes last season.
Players on both sides have also stepped into those vacated roles, hoping to contribute to another winning season.
To gain experience and see where they stand with the best of the best, Chandler and Mountain Pointe have also faced off against some of the best teams in the nation.
Chandler (2-1) took on No. 2-ranked IMG Academy on Aug. 26,, falling 27-14; Mountain Pointe (1-1) five days later fell to the No. 9-ranked team in California, Chaminade. After the loss to Chaminade, Pride Head Coach Norris Vaughan said the Pride, will just have to get better.
“We gotta improve on everything, we got to get better at everything that we can do,” Vaughan said.
Early on this season, injuries have begun to plague both teams. The Pride started off the season without linemen Matthew Pola-mao and Cole Cundary. The Wolves also have been hit by injury when quarterback Jacob Conover suffered a shoulder injury against IMG, leaving him in a sling for a few weeks.
As it is still early in the season, both teams still have time to recover from injuries and grow.
The Pride has showcased strength in the run game with the return of Gary Bragg, combined with junior running back Jakim McKinney. And as expected, the defensive trio of Kenny Churchwell, Delano Salgado and Shomari Hayes will be big for Mountain Pointe.
Expect the Mountain Pointe defense to face off against a talented offense led by senior quarterback Billy Bolger.
Combined with a potent running game, he led the Wolves to an overtime, 35-28, win over Spencer Rattler and Pinnacle on Friday in his first varsity start, throwing for 240 yards and five touchdowns.
Chandler running back Drake Anderson was a big part of that potent offense, running for 106 yards. But he also added 95 yards through the air and caught four touchdowns.
This game will be big for both teams, it will give them a good idea of where they lie within the state.
As both teams recover from injuries and get better on the field, don’t expect these two teams to look quite the same in November. Last season, Mountain Pointe rolled over Chandler 52-7 in the regular season before falling to the Wolves in the state championship.
“We are looking for growth, were playing two nationally ranked teams, two weeks in a row,” Vaughan said. “This will only make us better, whether or not we can get over the hump and win these games, I don’t know. I mean we still have a chance to win, but they are really strong.”
Desert Vista vs Skyline
On the other side of Ahwatukee, the Desert Vista Thunder recovered from a season opening loss to Perry with a 29-19 win over Basha High School.
The Thunder did it with a sick quarterback who attacked a Basha defense for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
After the game, coach Daniel Hinds called quarterback Derek Kline a warrior after being able to lead his team to its first “W” this season.
The Thunder (1-1) looked like the team everyone has expected them to be, a potent offense with a highly touted, hard-hitting, defense. Now, it looks to carry that energy into the next matchup with Skyline (2-1) on Friday.
The Coyotes come off a big 41-3 victory over the Valley Vista Monsoon last week and will take to the road this Friday for the first time this season.
The Coyotes have been consistent on the ground this season with Aaron Wood and junior quarterback Steven Castle leading the way behind a big and strong offensive line.
Friday’s game will be a battle in the trenches as the offensive line of Skyline will face off with the three-headed monster of James Stagg, Larry Davis and Caleb Humphrey.
While the Coyotes may look to stick to their run game, look for the Thunder to play into whatever the Skyline defense gives them, as they have several weapons that can affect games in big ways.
It has been Hinds’s mindset from the beginning and so far, it has seemed to work for the Thunder after a disappointing week-one loss.
Now, they seem to be back on track.
“We know we have the chemistry and the ability to be a good team, but we didn’t show that on the field against Perry,” senior wide out Jake White said after their victory over Basha.
-Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at email@example.com or by phone at 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee