And here it is the state championship!! We as fans love the game but lets give a hand to all the coaches and players not only involved in the in the state championship and playoffs but all those across the state. Football is no longer a few months in the summer and late fall but rather a year long/high school career commitment. Passing league, spring ball, weights, speed camp, film work and more go into an athlete's preparation previous to the season starting. The coaches also put in a brutal work schedule not only during the season but also throughout the year and should be commended for their commitment to work with the young men who play the game we all love so much.
Previous to the start of the season, a Hamilton vs. Mt. Ridge state championship would have seemed in the realm of possibility. Hamilton started the season #1 ranked and returned many of the players that took them to a 5A title last year. For the most part, other than an October slip against Highland, Hamilton has cruised into the title game this year, outscoring opponents on average 38-10. On the other side was Mt.Ridge. preseason expectations for Mt.Ridge were high as they returned the core of a 10-1 team. Unlike Hamilton, Mt.Ridge did not cruise this season but struggled the first half of the of the year fighting injuries to Tim Ham and Nick Covey and finding consistency at quarterback. Since finding consistency, when Austin Martin switched from wideout to quarterback, Mt.Ridge has rolled off eight straight wins. So far during the eight game win streak Mt.Ridge is averaging just less than forty points a game on offense.
Both teams have put together offensive schemes that are best suited to their personnel. Hamilton is going to read the box and force defenses to make a decision. As Hamilton spreads out opposing defenses are forced to choose between single coverage on Mekell Wesley(51 catches 9 TD) or stopping the run/option of Travis Dixon and Cody Engelbrecht. The pair is averaging 181 rush yards a game throughout the playoffs. The two keys of this offensive balance for Hamilton are the offensive line and Travis Dixon. Although large, the Hamilton O line is very athletic and versatile. They hold their blocks well in the option game, can get to the edges for screens and hitches as well as pass block. Senior Travis Dixon is the leader of this offense. He quietly puts up consistent offensive statistics week in and week out and makes plays as the offense needs them. In three playoff games he is averaging 224 yards of total offense and has thrown only one pick.
Offensively over the past two months Mountain Ridge has put together a game plan that highlights the specific running skills of QB Austin Martin and RB Nick Bell. They have become a thunder and lighting combination. Martin can break a defenses back with his ability to scramble and has a knack of making a big play at the right time. Against Paradise Valley and Brophy, Martin took off on big runs at crucial times. Nick Bell has become the workhorse of the offense. In playoffs, Bell is averaging just under thirty carries a game. What makes him dangerous is while he pounds the ball, he has the ability to take a dive or power sweep to the house at anytime. The past two weeks he has runs of sixty and sixty-five yards. Mt.Ridge coach Steve Belles does a nice job of adding to this strong run game just enough screens, swings and seam passes to Nick Covey to keep the defense honest. Much like Hamilton the offensive keys are QB and O Line. Martin is a D coordinators nightmare. You can have him schemed and yet he will still make the big play. Last week Brophy played Markel Devorce at LB in attempt to counter Martin's athleticism. Throughout playoffs, Mt.Ridge has pounded teams with their O-line in the fourth quarter. This group is not the biggest in 5A but is run blocking and getting on people as well as any O-line. They are crucial this week in that long ball control drives could help keep the Hamilton O off the field. So far in playoffs, Ridge is averaging just over 370 yards rushing a game against three very good defenses.
This year the Hamilton D has been overshadowed by the O yet the defensive unit is allowing just under ten points a game on the season and eleven points a game in playoffs. In playoffs the defensive unit is allowing only seventy-one yards rushing a game!! A key for Hamilton will be having defensive lineman Brian Dean, Phillip Verdugo and Dontay Mach keeping contain on Mt.Ridge QB Austin Martin.
Mt.Ridge has given up more points in playoffs than Hamilton but has managed to keep the high powered offenses of Paradise Valley, Mt.View and Brophy in check. Currently senior linebacker Daniel Villasenor is playing great football. It will be interesting to see how the Mt.Ridge defense chooses to defend Mekell Wesley. Also keep an eye out on Nick Covey, each week his knee seems to get better and the defensive coaches have done a nice job of stunting him in appropriate situations throughout playoffs. Another key to watch for regarding the Mt.Ridge D is keeping everyone fresh. Martin, Bell, Covey and others play significant time on both sides of the ball.
Mekell Wesley of Hamilton and Nick Bell of Mt.Ridge are very dangerous return men. Wesley is averaging twenty-three yards per punt return while Bell averages over thirty yards per kickoff return. The Hamilton kick game is very consistent in that Dominic Papa handles both kicking and punting duties. Mt.Ridge kicker Jeff Locke does a nice job on kickoffs putting it deep or in the endzone. Also, Austin Martin is the up back in the Mt.Ridge punt formation which makes him a run pass threat for trick plays.
Coach's Quotes: Head coach Tom Joseph of Mt.View opened his season losing to Hamilton 21-20 and closed his season losing to Mt.Ridge 29-26. Here are some of Coach Joseph's quotes on the game.
"Mt.Ridge can't give up the big pass play. They have a very good D but if they have a weak spot it is defending the deep pass."
"Hamilton has a good D as well but needs to stop the run. Mt.Ridge has several good backs but it is their big physical line that allows them to run."
"Both teams have great athletes. Hamilton has a two platoon system and Mt.Ridge has players going both ways. The platoon system is overrated. Players have to play and the best ones need to be on the field all the time."
"The game is going to come down to the team with the best D and turnovers."
Coach Tom Bruney's Maryvale Panthers also played both teams losing to Hamilton 36-7 and region rival Mt.Ridge 43-11. Here are some of his takes on the game.
"This should be a great game, Mt.Ridge is the hottest team in the state, maybe the country."
"Austin Martin electrified the team and Bell is running like a man."
"Hamilton is so well coached and has a great scheme. They have the best offensive line we have seen this year."
"Hamilton wears you down because they have no players going both ways."
"If you double Wesley it causes problems and opens up the run game."
Tale of the Tape: The Hamilton D is giving up just over seventy rush yards a game in playoffs, The Mt.Ridge run game is averaging 370 yards a game in playoffs. Something has got to give.
Round 1 Mountain Ridge 38 Paradise Valley 24 Hamilton 54 North 3
Round 2 Mountain Ridge 29 Mountain View 25 Hamilton 42 Salpointe 21Round 3 Mountain Ridge 42 Brophy 34 Hamilton 34 Highland 10