It’s been widely regarded by national media outlet MaxPreps as one of the top football postseason tournaments in the county.
Arizona’s Open Division has had its critics in the past, especially those who believe it may no longer be needed with some of the top programs in the state all at the 6A level. But it’s remained intact, and the Arizona Interscholastic Association has said it will continue to be.
This brings excitement to Arizona high school football players, coaches, and fans on Nov. 25, The best against the greatest. Scottsdale and the East Valley are well represented.
No. 2 Basha vs No. 8 American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek
Basha secured the No. The Bears secured the No. 2 seed after defeating Hamilton in consecutive weeks. This was a first for them in their history. At the time, both programs were nationally ranked – Chandler as high as No. 9 in the nation.
Basha faced two of the four nationally ranked opponents this year. The Bears beat California’s Los Alamitos, which featured two of the top players in the country, to start the season and fell to Liberty out of Peoria, the No. 1 team to enter the Open Division playoffs.
The season ended with wins over Perry, Chandler, Casteel, Hamilton, Casteel and Casteel. It helped Basha reset.
“Liberty got us last night and it definitely set off the fire to get ready to face Hamilton and Chandler,” Basha assistant coach Blake Silberschlag said. “The mindset is ALA – Queen Creek is up first. They score a lot of points, and they have a lot of really talented kids. They’re going to get our best shot and we’re going to get their best shot. We’ll see what happens from there.”
Like all other Open Division teams, Basha used the week off before the postseason to recover and prepare for American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek, the only 5A team to make it in the elite eight.
Key matchups will include Basha’s talented secondary featuring Oregon commit Cole Martin and another star on the other side in Miles Lockhart against ALA wideouts Ryan Meza, Jayden Williams and athlete Bubba Agne – who splits time at running back with Mitch Jensen.
The Patriots made a huge jump to reach the Open Division. They were behind both Sandra Day O’Connor, the No. 8 seed, and Highland, which was the team most wanted. ALA was awarded the nod and Ty Detmer, head coach, said that his players were up for the challenge.
Last year, ALA reached the Open Division at the same spot as Hamilton. The Patriots played close to the Huskies for about a half before a lack depth took their place.
They feel they’re better off this season, but it comes against an opponent that yet again features one of the top quarterbacks in the country in junior Demond Williams. Basha’s high-powered offense with Deshaun Buchanan at running back and Bryson Dedmon at wideout, among others, will challenge the Patriots.
Drew Cowart is the ALA’s quarterback and has scored over 40 points in every game except one. They also have firepower.
“We’re gelling at the right time,” Detmer said. “This group hangs in there, they play hard together and they trust each other. I’m really proud of the effort they’ve been able to give week in and week out.
“We’re the type of team that can give some teams problems because our coordinators are really good and we’ve got 26 seniors that have a lot of maturity and experience. It’s a great group.”
No. 3 Chandler vs No. 6 Centennial
Chandler remained at No. 3 to No. 4 Hamilton, which beat No. 2 in the final game two weeks ago.
Coach Rick Garretson, Chandler coach, said that he and the team have made it past that. They know what they’re capable of, and they have the talent to make it happen.
“I’ve always thought that if we play our A-game, I like our chances,”Garretson said. “We didn’t play our A-game the other night on offense. We didn’t play our A-game against Basha. It’s time to gear it up.”
The postseason will begin with Chandler against Centennial, a scrappy side that has once more become a power in the West Valley. Garretson is well aware that they have a strong defense as well as an offense that can put on the points if given the chance.
Just like they felt at the beginning of the season, the Wolves feel overlooked. They’ve heard the critics say they’re not as strong as they used to be. Some predict that Centennial will win the upset.
But that doesn’t matter to them. They are confident in Dylan Raiola, the junior quarterback. They have confidence in sophomore running back Xavier Valdivia, who may once again lead the backfield with junior Ca’lil Valentine injured. And they know they’re defense is still one of the best in the country.
“Our defense played very well both of those games,” Garretson said of his team’s two losses. “We prep hard. Our kids prep hard. Our coaches prep hard. You do everything you can as far as preparation and let the chips fall where they may.”
No. 4 Hamilton vs. 5 Saguaro
Hamilton hosting Saguaro is perhaps one of the most exciting matchups among the four. These two have become rivals in recent times, with Hamilton hosting Saguaro in the semifinals for the Open Division in 2019, which was nationally televised in 2020. They also met in the semifinals last year.
The Sabercats upset the Huskies last season, but both teams know they’ve reloaded since then.
The Sabercats will enter as the No. After losing three games during the regular season, the Sabercats are now the No. 5 seed. They felt they were not being counted. They felt ignored. They were feeling overlooked.
“We knew if we wanted to get in, we had to win after that Liberty game,”Jason Mohns, Saguaro coach, said. “The biggest thing early on we were struggling with was execution. We watch film and we walk away knowing we are right there. It forced us to have way more urgency and to show up and execute.”
Devon Dampier has again proven his skill as a quarterback. Jaedon Matthews, Zaccheus Cooper and Zaccheus Cooper have been a compliment to his game. Saguaro has had to deal with injuries once more, but it still managed the Open Division title.
Hamilton is now a Hamilton team, fresh from beating Chandler. The Huskies felt also disrespected by Chandler’s ranking. But now they’ve put that behind them.
Since replacing Roch Cholowsky’s injured shoulder, Quarterback Beckham Pellant has been a great quarterback. He nearly led Hamilton to victory over Basha, and orchestrated the game-winning drive against Wolves. He’s ready for the spotlight, and so are all the players around him.
“For us, it’s getting ready for the next game but with that, somebody’s season is going to end,”Mike Zdebski is Hamilton’s coach. “They’ve ended our season the last two out of three. At some point, we need to fix that, correct that and get over that hump. We need to play a complete game.
“We need to win this game.”
The winner Hamilton-Saguaro faces the winner of No. 1 Liberty vs. 8 Sandra Day O’Connor. Friday, 7 p.m.: The Open Division playoffs begin