The Maricopa High School football team could earn a share of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Section I title with a win over Vista Grande High School during their Homecoming game Friday night.
The Rams will enter Friday’s game in a three way tie with Tempe and Arcadia high schools for first place in the section. If the Rams win, they will finish section play with a 5-1 record and eliminate the chances of having a worse record than any other team in the section. Arcadia and Tempe still have two section games each, and any loss would eliminate them from title contention.
There are two ways the Rams can earn a section title.
Because all three teams hold a tie breaker in the three-way, head-to-head matchup, if each team wins its remaining games, the section title would go to the team with the best overall Division III record. The one-loss Rams control their own destiny in that scenario.
Maricopa could also earn the section title if Arcadia loses because they beat Tempe. However, if Tempe loses either of its final two games, Arcadia would be in the driver’s seat.
Standing in Maricopa’s way of a potential section title and playoff berth is Vista Grande. The Spartans have been playoff contenders all year, but back-to-back losses to Tempe and Arcadia left Vista Grande in a must win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Spartans are ranked 18th, and only the top 16 will go to the playoffs.
“It’s tough keeping them focused because Homecoming brings a lot of distractions,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We just try to preach that their 2.5 hours out here are business and go time. Let’s goof around after.”
The Rams will look to use their depth to attack a Spartans defense that only allows 13 points a game on average. Last week’s breakout star, senior running back Jalen Lee, is expected to spearhead a balanced rushing attack. The running game will be essential with senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. still slowed by a toe injury.
“They’re physical,” McDonald said of the Spartans. “They might be one of the more physical defensive fronts we’ve faced this year. They have some good athletes that can run. So they’re going to buckle up and come at us.”
Vista Grande hasn’t had the most dominant offense all year, but they grind away at opponents and walk away with close victories. In order to find success, the Rams’ front line will need to use their speed to penetrate the backfield and disrupt plays before they get started.
“They’ll line up and try to ground and pound us, if that doesn’t work they’ll go to a spread attack,” McDonald said. “They’re physical up front on both sides of the ball, so if we don’t match them physically it’ll be a long night.”
The game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. at Rams Field on northwest corner of Maricopa High School’s campus. A community tailgate will precede the game at 5 p.m., and all members of the community are welcome to participate in the event.