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Arizona 8-man football playoffs begin Friday, and are wide openOct 18, 2012 There might not be anyone more qualified to break down the Arizona 8-man state football tournament than John Bryant.
Not only has Bryant led Joseph City to three straight titles, he coached at St. David for 12 years and Pima for six before taking over Joe City in 2009. He has won titles at all three stops for a total of nine state championships.
If he and the Wildcats are going to secure another one, it will be well-earned, as Joe City enters the first round as the No. 5 seed. They'll take on No. 12 St. David in Friday's first round of the Division VI state tournament. A win puts them against No. 4 Joy Christian (Glendale), which would be a rematch of last season's title game won by Joe City, 38-6.
Another win most likely brings top-seeded Scottsdale Christian Academy (Phoenix) in the semifinals.
See the Arizona Division VI playoff bracket
"I do think it is more wide open than it has been over the last few years when there were a few clear-cut favorites," said Bryant, who has also coached teams to state titles in boys basketball, softball and track and field. "There isn't a team with a real superstar, difference maker that gives someone an edge."
When pushed, Bryant pegged third-seeded Pima as the favorite because of its size and speed. Then he rattled off Joy Christian, Scottsdale Prep, Mogollon (Heber) and lastly his own team as top contenders as well.
While there might be stronger teams out there, none of the other squads in the 12-team field has the unrelenting reminder of what came before them.
"The biggest thing they are thinking about is winning four in a row," Bryant said. "They know what is at stake. They are excited for the challenge and if we manage to win our fourth that is something very unusual."
So unusual it has never been done in Division VI, formerly Class 1A, and the only other time a team has won as many as three was from 1964-66 when it was 6-man and McNary High, which no longer exists, pulled it off.
Joseph City's most tenured senior is Robert Larsen, who has the chance to win his third ring as a starter on the line. The running game is strong behind seniors Chance Rush and Josh Burt, along with sophomore Conner Neal.
The Wildcats, whose only loss came against Mogollon, enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak and it is clear that Bryant, who has never coached 11-man, knows a little something about maneuvering a team through the postseason.
"We are taking it one game at a time and we know we have a tough draw," he said. "If we are going to pull it off we are going to have to play our four best games of the season."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at email@example.com or 480-272-2449.