Football: Mountain Pointe vs Brophy

Macarious Blount finds a hole and runs up it. Mountain Pointe won the game 35-31.

Semifinal stumble: Final four games can be difficult to remain focused

Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2015 9:22 am | Updated: 9:44 am, Thu Nov 19, 2015.

The ultimate goal is playing for and winning a state championship.

Some teams have been talking about it since the end of the season before, or maybe it becomes a stated goal during a weight room session in January.

Maybe it gets written on the whiteboard in July just before the grind begins or the head coach brings it in the team huddle after a big win in Week 7.

It becomes part of the daily mindset. Playing for the state championship has been ingrained and the only acceptable result.

And now – this week only; just 48 minutes of football standing in the way – it can become a stumbling block if teams are not careful.

“These kids are looking at University of Phoenix Stadium and dreaming about it,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “You have to keep the focus on this week and not let it become too big. It’s right there in front of him but this is when upsets happen. You don’t see them in the championship game, maybe Desert Vista over Hamilton (in 2012), but if it is going to happen this is usually the week.”

Six area teams took on that challenge this week. They go through the same routine preparing as all the other weeks, but these are teenagers with wild imaginations and a feeling of invincibility.

“That’s exactly what we talked to them about that today,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said on Monday. “Teams lose their focus right now with the championship so close. They start hearing grandma and grandpa are coming to town for the championship game. This is the really important game. There are no tickets for the grandparents if they aren’t focused this week.”

Some coaches feel like the semifinals is harder to prepare for than the championship game.

“Once you are there, there is no other game to look to,” Hathcock said. “They are focused on that game and that game only. Right now there is something else out there on their minds.”

Desert Ridge, which is the fourth seed, is preparing for top-seeded Chandler (11-1), but it is the Jaguars that have more experience of being in this position.

The Wolves have made three straight semifinals but that is not as impressive as the other three programs in Division I.

Second-seeded Mountain Pointe (12-0) has made the semifinals six times in the last seven years with two state title appearances and one title.

Desert Ridge (10-2) has made it five out of the last six years with one title appearance.

Centennial (9-3) has made the semifinals 11 times in the last 12 years, all at the second-largest divisions until this year, with seven championship appearances and four rings.

“Anytime you get there it is something special, but you don’t want that to be the end of it,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “Anyone who thought this team was going to be there knew more than me. We are just trying to get to the next game.”

The other three area teams – Skyline (12-0) and Marcos de Niza (11-2) in Division II and American Leadership (11-1) in Division V – have less pedigree with only the Padres having some semifinal experience (2012, 2009).

The players know what is at stake and plenty have been in this position before, but those who are experiencing it for the first time are doing their best to keep it in perspective.

“I’ve played in front of bigger crowds than I ever have before,” said Mountain Pointe quarterback Jack Smith, who was on the sidelines of the Pride’s loss in the semifinals last year after moving from Indiana. “I’ve never been this far into a season. I can’t wait to be part of this and seeing if we can get to the big game.”

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