The Arizona Republic
Don’t pencil in Phoenix Pinnacle as the team Chandler will meet in the 6A final yet. Yeah, Pinnacle (8-1) won a game it was supposed to, beating Scottsdale Chaparral 23-7. But it only managed two touchdowns. And a mystery shrouds the program with senior quarterback Spencer Rattler’s uncertainty on when he will return. Rattler says he has a knee issue but will probably be back after another week. Coach Dana Zupke is not saying a word about Rattler, which seems strange. And with another playmaker, Kaleb Covington, leaving the game in the second quarter with an injury, how many hits can the Pioneers take before they cave in? They lost their top rusher, Matt Goodlow, in August for the season with an injury. Tailback Kenji Roland got knocked out in the first half of the Chaparral game with an injury. Backup QB J.D. Johnson would start for most teams. South Carolina was impressed enough to offer him this season. He’s the real deal, probably the state’s best backup. And Marcus Libman can dial it up with big plays at wide receiver. And the run defense looked better against what should have been Chaparral’s strength, running the ball. Time will tell how the rest of the season plays out for No. 2 Pinnacle, but if they get to the final and win it, it will go down as the most resilient team in Arizona.
Don’t upset a bunch of players who stand by their coach. With Angelo Paffumi suspended, Mesa Skyline played its most inspired game, scoring 73 points in a 34-point win over Mesa Mountain View. It was the most points allowed in the Toros’ proud history that dates to 1976. Paffumi, a Jesse Parker disciple at Gilbert, was a finalist for the Mountain View job before it went to Micah Fell in 2016. Skyline players and coaches dedicated the win to Paffumi, who wasn’t allowed to coach in the game. Skyline Principal Tom Brennan said three Skyline coaches were ejected from the freshman game on Wednesday night. Paffumi said he was at the freshman game as a fan/parent to watch his son, who suffered a broken leg late in the third quarter and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital. Brennan said “play was suspended and the game ended” after that. In the varsity game, the offense went off, behind QB Steven Castle (12-of-14, 250 yards, three TDs) and RB Aaron Wood (24 carries, 250 yards, three TDs.)
Biggest small-school statement
Thatcher might be the best small-school team in Arizona, even better than anybody in 3A. Thatcher’s 42-3 2A rout of Eagar Round Valley should serve notice to the rest of 2A that this might be the best team in Thatcher’s rich football history. The Eagles won the past two state championships in thrillers, losing to Round Valley in the regular season both years. But this team is on a take-no-prisoners mission. Even Phoenix Christian coach Brian Cole, after seeing his team trounce Phoenix Arizona Lutheran, 56-0, noticed what Thatcher did to a Round Valley team that beat PC in overtime.
Goodyear Millennium senior quarterback Zareq Brown, 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, was a relative unknown. Until Friday. Brown set two Millennium single-game records with 421 yards passing and six TD passes in a 61-0 win over Surprise Willow Canyon. Brown was 18of-22 passing. Millennium improved to 7-2 on Senior Night. Brown never threw for more than 200 yards in a game last season. “He was playing in his last home regular-season game and he put on a great performance, spreading the ball around to different players,” coach Lamar Early said. “He showed maturity.”
There are a number of top two-way player candidates in Arizona. But Gilbert Highland senior Kohner Cullimore really stood out in his team’s surprisingly dominant 38-7 win over a good Queen Creek team. College coaches need to take a closer look at this kid’s heart. He knows how to lead, how to win, how to make plays. Playing safety and running back, he had a forced fumble, an interception, 15 tackles, two rushing touchdowns and more than 100 yards in kickoff and punt returns. Cullimore epitomizes a no-name Highland team that has Chandler, Pinnacle and Gilbert Perry on notice at 8-1. “Cullimore is the catalyst,” said Mesa Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock.
Desert Ridge lost its fourth game in a row, falling to Phoenix Mountain Pointe 28-20, and putting the Jaguars in playoff mode now. Despite the losses, a few of them close heartbreakers to good teams, Desert Ridge, with just three wins, came into the week at No. 14 in the 6A playoff rankings. Who knows where the Jags will be come Tuesday. The top 16 teams get in. Friday’s game against Highland is the final regular-season game. “I know we’re going to play hard,” Hathcock said. “The playoffs at Desert Ridge is right now. We’re telling our kids, ‘This is the playoffs. It starts this week. We lose, we’re out. We win, we keep playing.’ What sucks is we’re not a bad football team.” With season-long struggles at quarterback, Hathcock last week turned to his son, Koby, to play quarterback, pulling him off defense. Koby mostly handed the ball off to senior Lucas Wright, who had his greatest high school game, rushing for 297 yards on 36 carries. Jeremy said he won’t hesitate to let his son throw the ball but he’ll mainly operate option. “He’s a leader,” Jeremy said.
Never say never. Just when it seemed Marqui Johnson would watch from the sideline his senior season, with help from his dad, he took the Arizona Interscholastic Association to court and won. Without a lawyer. Johnson finally was unleashed two games ago and is starting to show his star power now at Scottsdale Saguaro as a receiver, after playing mostly running back the past two years at Scottsdale Chaparral. After he had two catches for 64 yards and a TD in a 42-7 win over Tempe Marcos de Niza, Johnson was even better in a 69-0 rout of a Chandler Seton Catholic team that had lost only one game coming in. Johnson had seven catches for 148 yards and two TDs and returned a kick 70 yards for a score.
Joseph City trailed Fort Thomas by 24 points, but scored three touchdowns with two-point conversions and took the Apaches into overtime behind the Kinlicheenie family. Not once. Not twice. But into three OTs, before pulling out a 66-58 1A (8-man) first-round state playoff win, surviving to meet No. 1-seed Williams next week. With 30 seconds left in regulation. Latrell Kinlicheenie threw a 20-yard TD pass to his cousin, K.J. Kinlicheenie. After converting the two-point conversion to tie it, Joseph City kept delivering in overtime. Finally, the Wildcats won it in the third OT on Cameron Baldwin’s touchdown run. But they needed one more stop. They got it on fourth down when another Kinlicheenie, Latrell’s freshman brother, Terrell, deflected a pass in the end zone. “That’s the most heart I’ve seen displayed all season,” coach Eldon Larsen said. “A great comeback. Even if we don’t win next week, this will carry into next year.”
It would have been the wildest finish “ever,” coach Scott McKee said. But after what the Tucson Sahuaro coach described as “a calamity of penalties,” on a 43yard punt return for a touchdown with no time left by Sahuaro senior Damion Wright was called back, the 5A game at Casa Grande went into overtime, where Wright this time got to be the hero, picking off a pass after Cameron Williams had given Sahuaro a 21-14 lead. The punt return that didn’t count, however, was all the buzz in Southern Arizona on Friday night. It came with Casa Grande trying to run out the clock with nine seconds left. The punter ran around the end zone to burn the remaining seconds, before kicking it away. But during Wright’s return, McKee said three penalties were called -- Casa Grande in an illegal formation, a block in the back on the return by Sahauro and an unsportsmanlike conduct on Casa Grande out of frustration for giving up the return. Officials, McKee said, decided instead of a no-time play to take the game into OT.
Around the state
❚ Queen Creek senior quarterback Devin Larsen suffered a right shoulder injury during his team’s loss to Highland that will require surgery, his dad Darrin Larsen said. He is out for the season.
❚ In a 75-13 rout of Bullhead City Mohave, Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain RB David Mata ran 11 times for 206 yards and seven TDs, returned a 79-yard kickoff for a TD and had five tackles at outside linebacker.
❚ Despite giving up two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Andrell Barney, Phoenix Brophy Prep held off Chandler Basha 28-23 in a pivotal 6A game. Both teams will make the playoffs but that might have hurt Basha’s chance to host a first-round game.
❚ Tucson Empire can clinch a winning season in 5A after a jump from 3A with a win next week. It put itself in that position by dominating Tucson Rincon University 69-25, behind WR Jalen Smith’s five catches for 251 yards and five TDs.
Week 11 Game of the Week
Gilbert Higley travels to play Gilbert Williams Field in the renewal of one of the most intense rivalries in the state.