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Les WillseyStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
D-I FB title game: Hamilton-Mtn. Pointe a titanic finalNov 23, 2012
Part of Hamilton's 45-19 beating at the hands of Desert Vista last year in the Division I championship game could be traced to overconfidence. Knowing it handled Desert Vista, 35-10, at midseason of 2011 had the Huskies thinking cakewalk. Combine that with Desert Vista's nearly flawless execution the second time around and Hamilton was left red-faced. Such will not be the case if No. 3 seed Hamilton falters in 2012.
That's because this time Hamilton enters the title game having lost in the regular season to its Saturday afternoon foe, No. 1 Mountain Pointe. Hamilton coach Steve Belles is bullish on the scenario.
"It's great motivation for us," Belles said, referring to the season-opening 17-14 loss to the Pride. "Everything is the opposite from a year ago. It's chance for redemption."
Kickoff for the D-I final is Saturday (Nov. 24) at 12:07 p.m at University of Phoenix Stadium. It's Mountain Pointe's first football title game and Hamilton's 10th.
Neither Mountain Pointe (12-1) or Hamilton (11-2) has traveled an easy road to this final. Mountain Pointe has beaten half of the D-I playoff field. The Pride reversed their only loss of the season last week to Brophy with a 30-0 win. Brophy jumped on Mountain Pointe second-half miscues in the previous meeting in September in rolling up a 54-28 victory. Mountain Pointe will try and capture its first-ever football championship with a solid defense and its most dangerous offense in coach Norris Vaughan's four-year stint as head coach.
"We have size and speed, we can throw or run and play defense," Vaughan said. "Our opponent Hamilton has the same thing. It seems like two years ago since we played them. This is a new game. I don't think it matters much how the first one went. It's how you play on the given day."
Hamilton has faced five teams from this year's playoff field, including beating defending champ Desert Vista and Desert Ridge twice each. Hamilton is not as flashy on offensel, but possesses a staunch, trademark defense. The defense will need to be as good as it was the first meeting when it held its own and more Running back Garette Craig has 2,010 yards rushing and receiving and backfield mate Thomas Warren another 901 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Antonio Hinojosa has thrown for 2,132 yards and 29 TDs. Jalen Brown has 65 receptions for 1,221 yards. Craig, Hinojosa and Brown all had decent, not explosive games in the first meeting.
"They have a great run-pass combination this year," Belles said. "They have Jalen Brown. Our guys know what's in front of them. I think an advantage we have is with our interior guys. They have more going both ways. We have more depth."
The key to Hamilton winning may rest in the quarterback play of A.J. Thigpen. Thigpen had a rough start to the season and played much better during most of the current 11-game winning streak.
"AJ would be the first to tell you didn't play his A game last week," Belles said. "I know without AJ this year we wouldn't be where we are."
Mountain Pointe must focus on Thigpen and keep tabs on running backs Kevin Walters and Frankie Felix. Cole Luke, as close to a two-way player as it gets at Hamilton, appears in cameos and can make a play or two with a run or reception. The Huskies top receivers are Izzy Simpson and Tyler Eggers.
"Their quarterback is special," Vaughan said. "We have to contain him."
Vaughan emphasizes the length of time between meetings (three months). He believes it's somewhere between wiping the slate clean and a checkup on execution.
"It's a new game," Vaughan said. "It's one game. You've got to win one game, no matter how you do it."
Belles likes the perserverance of this team, given its 0-2 start and perhaps more external panic at the time than internal.
"I'm proud of the way these kids have battle back," Belles said. Like the old saying, it's not where you start, but how you finish."