Desert Edge will look to make a dent in the Division III playoffs, starting with Thunderbird on Friday.
The overlooked tend to have an edge to them.
It’s safe to say the Desert Edge (Goodyear) defense falls under that category simply because the program’s offense has been one of the best, regardless of division, the last few years.
The Scorpions, who are the third seed in the Division III playoffs, have blown teams away this year, averaging 50.2 points a game as wide receiver Elijah Marks set the state record for receiving yards (1,802) in a season.
The offense scores so quickly that at times the Desert Edge band might actually spend more time on the field, which means the Scorpions defense is on the field a lot. Unless of course the unit is getting the ball back (14 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries).
“Sometimes I have to tell the offensive coordinator to slow it down because we need the defense to get fresh,” Desert Edge coach Rich Wellbrock said. “They’ve done a great job and just go about their business and usually get the ball back to us pretty quickly.
“The offense gets all of the notoriety but the defense comes up just as big.”
Raheem Dowdell (98 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries) is the ringleader, while Paul Davis (71 tackles), K.J. Sells (3 interceptions, 21 passes defensed) and others have been the catalysts behind the unit that has allowed 17.4 points a game, most of which came after the game was already decided.
“Our kids have done a really good job across the board,” Wellbrock said. “We got close last year (as state runner-ups) and they know what it takes to get back.”
Here is a breakdown of each division as the postseason gets underway this week:
Favorite: Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) – The Pride served notice while essentially the whole state was watching when they beat Bishop Gorman the week before everyone else played. Only one team – Hamilton – played Mountain Pointe within 10 points and the game wasn’t that close. The defense has posted a school-record four shutouts and allowed six or fewer points in two others.
Challenger: Chandler – The No. 2 Wolves beat Hamilton for the first time in school history, so they can accomplish just about anything. Yes, they were handled by Mountain Pointe at home, but circumstances of the game – two blocked punts, etc. – didn’t give them a chance. A rematch will be much closer than 38-14.
Dark horse: Westview (Avondale) – The fifth-seeded Knights are the unknown in this bracket because their schedule was a cakewalk on their way to going undefeated. The assumption is Westview is a notch below the top four, but if they get a lead their offense will drain the clock in a hurry.
Best first-round matchup: No. 10 Basha (Chandler) at No. 7 Horizon (Scottsdale) – This is provided that the good Basha squad shows up. Either way, it is going to be a scoring barrage. Horizon has been a juggernaut, averaging 51.5 points and 548.3 yards behind Dalton Sneed, and might need all of that if Basha’s Zach Werlinger and Co. are playing at a high level.
Favorite: No. 1 Salpointe Catholic (Tucson) – Much like Mountain Pointe, the Lancers have wowed people since winning the Sollenberger Classic in Las Vegas impressively. Salpointe hasn’t stopped since, winning by the average score of 49.7 to 5.3. The one question is how will they react in a close game, considering the closest game was 40-7 over No. 6 Marcos de Niza?
Challenger: No. 4 Centennial (Peoria) – The Coyotes are always in the mix and come into the postseason having won nine straight games after a season-opening loss to Chandler. The offense is led by its line, including Layth Friekh, and three talented running backs in Dedrick Young, Matt Rodriguez and Quentin Gomez.
Dark horse: No. 2 Mesquite (Gilbert) – The Wildcats are the newcomer after petitioning down to Division II and hiring proven winner Jim Jones as the head coach. He took over the program last year and went 2-8 in Division I, but they have found new life this year and hope to take Mesquite to the title like he did with Red Mountain in back-to-back years in 2000 and 2001.
Best first-round matchup: No. 12 Deer Valley (Glendale) at No. 5 Sunnyslope (Phoenix). One team feels like it has gotten too much attention (Deer Valley) after using ineligible players, but the other (Sunnyslope) is probably the least talked about undefeated team in the state because of its easy schedule. Both teams probably feel like a long playoff run can wipe away all of it.
Favorite: No. 2 Saguaro (Scottsdale) – The Sabercats are in position to win their sixth state title since 2006 as the passing attack, led by Luke Rubenzer (2,809 yards, 38 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), really hasn’t been stopped all season and their winning pedigree can’t be matched. Oh, and Saguaro already beat top-seeded Williams Field 40-31.
Challenger: No. 3 Desert Edge (Goodyear) – The Scorpions finished as state runner-up in an odd 9-7 loss to Queen Creek. They’ve been taking it out on their opponents all year long, averaging 50.4 points a game, behind another prolific passing game as Marks (86 catches, 1,802 yards and 21 touchdowns) and quarterback Anthony Hernandez (3,399 yards, 45 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) have been the best combo in the state.
Dark horse: No. 1 Williams Field (Gilbert) – It’s not exactly often that a top seed is the dark horse, but the Black Hawks lost to Saguaro at home and Desert Edge has just been incredibly impressive. Williams Field has been a very good program under Steve Campbell and this might very well be his best team other than the 2010 runner-up squad. Oh, and the Black Hawks are tired of hearing how they shouldn’t be the top seed.
Best first-round matchup: No. 10 Tempe at No. 7 Sabino (Tucson) – Sabino is healthy at the end of the year and the three-headed attack of Emilio Araiza (1,696 yards, 30 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), Zach Joseph (64 catches, 1172 yards, 13 touchdowns) and wide receiver Matt Bushman (50 catches, 1332 yards, 24 touchdowns) while Tempe has the trio to match in Emanuel Gant (2,943, 37 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), Kam’ron Johnson (1034 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and Massiah Smith (53 catches, 1139 yards, 16 touchdowns).
Favorite: No. 1 Show Low – The defeats in an 8-2 season came against Division III powers Williams Field and Queen Creek. They’ve handled everyone else, including No. 3 Snowflake and No. 4 Blue Ridge.
Challenger: No. 2 Seton Catholic (Chandler) – The division has long been dominated by the White Mountains but the Sentinels changed that last season with a surprising title. This time around it won’t be as surprising.
Dark horse: No. 4 Blue Ridge (Lakeside) – When was the last time the Yellow Jackets were considered a dark horse? The 14-time state champions are never counted out and look forward to a rematch with Show Low, which won 38-14 on Oct. 11, in the semifinals.
Best first-round matchup: No. 12 Fountain Hills (5-5) at No. 5 Coolidge (9-1). Fountain Hills has been tested by three of the top four seeds down the stretch. All were defeats, but playing the best, regardless of outcome, can make a team better. Meanwhile, Coolidge is a clear step down from the top four and hasn’t played the schedule the Falcons have this year.
Favorite: No. 1 Arizona Lutheran Academy (Phoenix) – Honestly, this could five other teams. It’s tough to get a handle based on results – as all but Round Valley have had setbacks within the division. ALA could very well be the one still remaining at the end.
Challenger: No. 2 Joy Christian (Glendale) – How is this for the first foray in 11-man football after winning the 8-man title last year and finishing as runner-up in 2011? The Eagles have won seven straight and want to bring home another title.
Dark horse: No. 5 Northwest Christian (Phoenix) – How can you count out a program that has made three straight title games, winning twice including last year? You don’t. Just ask Yuma Catholic, which lost to the Crusaders last week.
Best first-round match-up: No. 12 Tempe Prep at No. 5 Northwest Christian (Phoenix) – Tempe opened the year 0-3 with the final loss coming against Northwest Christian. It’s a much different team, so expect a closer game than the first-go around that the Crusaders won 28-0.