Liberty Football Blowout

Scoreboards around the West Valley have been ringing up lopsided wins as the high school football season gets off to a delayed, chaotic start.

Glendale’s Cactus High lost its first game of the year by 41 points (to Sunrise Mountain, 48-17)—then won its second game by 43 points (shutting out Peoria). 

Ironwood High, meanwhile, has rolled to a 3-0 record, with blowout scores of 42-10, 47-6 and 42-0.

Ironwood and Cactus were not alone, as in the first weeks of the high school football season, high school football has seen a high volume of blowouts. Twenty-five out of 34 matchups in the first two weeks in the 6A conference have been won by at least 17 points.

You can probably blame the pandemic.

Week two saw multiple head-scratching beatdowns, including Chandler’s 64-0 shutout of Pinnacle, Liberty’s 30-0 shutout of Red Mountain and Hamilton’s 64-22 smackdown of Perry. Pinnacle and Perry were 2019 state quarterfinalists in the Open Division and 6A conference, respectively, and Red Mountain came up six points short of the 2019 6A Conference state title.

Hamilton blanked Centennial, 42-0, in the opening week, less than a year after they only defeated the Coyotes by nine points in the 2019 Open Division state quarterfinals. 

The Coyotes bounced back the second week with a 37-0 defeat of Mountain Pointe, but Centennial coach Richard Taylor believes his team was well behind other teams in terms of preparation.

“We just haven’t had enough time,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have summer practice, we didn’t have spring practice, we didn’t have seven on seven, and we were shut down a lot in the summertime. That wasn’t the case for all teams. I think Mountain Pointe was in the same kind of position that we were (in) because we still weren’t very good (against them). We were still making lots of mistakes. But things kind of fell into place, even though we were making mistakes, and that there was definitely improvement from week one.”

Taylor also believes that “without a doubt,” lack of preparation and stricter guidelines have led to other teams getting blown out in their early games.

“As a matter of fact, I would say that some disparity in practice time leads to almost dangerous situations for teams that kind of just kept going through the whole thing,” Taylor said. “And for teams that were shut down, it definitely isn’t fair. At times it’s dangerous.”

Coach Rick Garretson credited the Chandler Wolves’ outscoring of their first two opponents 108-10 to his team’s length of preparation in the offseason. Many other schools have had less time to prepare.

“June 8 was actually the first day that we were able to get together,” Garretson said. “Of course, we went like nine weeks without football. From the weight room perspective, and the conditioning and running (perspective), we got a lot of foundation.”

Offseasons looked different among schools because every district has its own timetable about how to phase in football. Although some started the first week of June, others started much later.

And the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be an ongoing issue. At least 12 Arizona high schools have had to cancel games since the start of the season including most recently San Tan Foothills High School after a cluster of COVID-19 cases were discovered.

Garretson feels fortunate that his team’s experience also helped the Wolves get off to a hot start with 44-10 and 64-0 victories over Liberty and Pinnacle, respectively.

“They worked hard to put themselves in that position,” Garretson said. “We played a good Liberty team and we played a really good Pinnacle team. I know the scores don’t reflect that, but those were two well-coached (and) structured football teams.”

Garretson cited Liberty’s 30-0 whooping of 2019 6A runner-up Red Mountain as a surprising blowout. But to Garretson, being on the receiving ends of blowouts like that don’t mean anything for the rest of their season.

Garretson mentioned Centennial, the Wolves’ week five opponent, as an example of a team with a great coaching staff with resilient players. Centennial was dismantled by Hamilton, 42-0, in week one before beating Mountain Pointe 37-0.

“Obviously, they bounce back from a 42-0 (loss) and I’m sure they’re going to be a different team when we play them in week five than they were in week one,” Garretson said. “Good coaching staffs and experienced coaching staffs know how to get their kids (to turn it around), and one game’s not going to make you or break you for a season. … I do know this when we go play Centennial: If we don’t come to play, we’ll have issues.”

Taylor, meanwhile, classified his team’s rebound and beatdown of Mountain Pointe as a character-building win.

“We have kids with character,” Taylor said. “As tough and embarrassing as (the loss to Hamilton) was, the kids, rather than just throwing up their hands and feeling like there’s nothing that they could do, they prepared mentally better, and they paid a lot more attention to their scouting reports and were much more focused. In a way, Hamilton did us a favor.”

After the early blowout loss, Centennial rebounded to control Williams Field in a 14-8 victory that raised the Coyotes record to 2-1.

Liberty High fell to 1-2 after a four-point loss Sunrise Mountain, which is undefeated.

Ironwood has a showdown at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, taking on undefeated Desert Edge in Goodyear.