Photo by Will Edmonds
Sunrise Mountain was in the Open Division discussion the first two weeks the AIA released its rankings. So, while Mustangs coach Steve Decker acknowledged being “a little disappointed” when he saw the final Open bracket didn’t include his team, “the way it went down, I was relieved. It’s good for us to be in the 5A.”
Instead of facing unbeaten Desert Edge’s fate as the No. 8 Open seed and a quarterfinal matchup with Chandler, the Mustangs enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed in what Decker sees as a wide-open 5A field.
“Anybody in our bracket can beat anybody,” said Decker, whose team opens with a rematch from Week 7 against Verrado (the Mustangs won the first meeting 42-14). “Verrado is a very tough 8 seed. We’re going to have to bring it each week to have a chance to win it all.”
Sunnyslope: The Vikings, like Sunrise Mountain, were in each of the first two Open Division rankings releases, only to end up in the 5A bracket as the No. 2 seed. Sunnyslope relies on a stingy defense that allowed an average of 6.3 points against 5A opponents before 6A Boulder Creek put up 35 points against the Vikings in Week 8.
Desert Mountain: Ironwood, led by senior quarterback and San Diego State commit William Haskell, will push Desert Mountain in the quarterfinals, but the Wolves quietly put together a resumé that earned them the No. 3 seed in the bracket. Senior linebackers Eli Mackowski and Caleb Taylor have combined for 97 tackles (20½ for loss), and senior quarterback Aiden Cerullo has passed for 10 touchdowns and rushed for four.
Notre Dame Prep: The Saints exited COVID-19 quarantine last week and rallied to win what turned out to be an elimination game against Horizon, 33-24, to grab the No. 7 seed. They’ll hope to carry that momentum into their matchup with Sunnyslope.
Campo Verde, last year’s 5A runner-up, enters the playoffs with little fanfare, a bit forgotten after having gone into COVID-19 quarantine and missing Weeks 6 and 7. The Coyotes emerged in time to beat Maricopa 35-14 in the final week of the regular season, and with one of the state’s top running backs in senior Caden Calloway, you sleep on them at your peril.
Quarterfinal winners: Sunrise Mountain, Campo Verde, Notre Dame Prep, Desert Mountain
Semifinal winners: Sunrise Mountain, Notre Dame Prep
Champion: Sunrise Mountain
Decker is correct. There is no overwhelming favorite in this field, and every team has at least one win on its schedule that shows it has the chops to be the final team standing. In the end, though, we’ll go with the Mustangs to not only reach their first final but to win it all.
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