Hamilton leaders: QB A.J. Thigpen; RB Frankie Felix; WR Izzy Simpson; DL Qualen Cunningham; DL Caleb Peart; LB Luke Parrish; LB Santana Sterling; DB Levi Sterling; DB Cole Luke.
KEYS TO THE GAME
• Passing the test: Both teams want to and love to run, and both teams like to set up the passing game off fakes and play-action. Mountain Pointe’s Antonio Hinojosa has been solid in decision-making and reading coverages during these playoffs, while Hamilton’s A.J. Thigpen has struggled at times when kept in the pocket and forced to read progressions. The passing game which better succeeds will be the team that up points. That is, unless …
• Turnover tirade: Turnover margin will be huge in this game, not only in giving the other team extra possessions but for the potential of having short fields. Both defenses are so good that 10-, 12- or 14-play scoring drives are unlikely. Turnovers are always the top priority in games such as these, especially because these teams are so evenly matched on paper (and in the first meeting when Hamilton had the game won until a late fumble).
• Special teams: One or two big plays — offense, defense or special teams — matter in these games, and both have the potential in that “other” facet of the game. Cole Luke is an elite kick returner, while Hamilton did an excellent job of winning the field-position battle against Desert Ridge in the semifinals with Thigpen’s punts and its coverage. Mountain Pointe better be on top of its coverage and blocking schemes.
A Division I football coach who saw Mountain Pointe and Hamilton both in person and on film breaks down Saturday afternoon’s state championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Hamilton offense vs. Mountain Pointe defense
I think Hamilton has to keep doing what they’re doing with balance. That’s what Hamilton does well. They were nearly 50-50 pass-run and for a defensive coordinator that takes away their tendencies. They have to keep Mountain Pointe defense guessing. I think it might be a problem with Mountain Pointe’s defense for Hamilton to run right at them. Mountain Pointe has a couple tackles who are pretty good in Natrell Curtis and Kenny Lacy, and that defense is good. Can Hamilton run at them? If they can, good for them. I think they’ll have to do it. In the back of the house (secondary), Mountain Pointe is very athletic and that’s an advantage I think over Hamilton’s passing game, even though they can throw and have a couple solid receivers.
Hamilton defense vs. Mountain Pointe offense
Against Desert Ridge and Desert Vista, Hamilton loaded the box and the strength of them is stopping the run. Mountain Pointe can run the ball but (QB) Antonio Hinojosa has played well. Hamilton has to shut down a couple of those athletes. If I’m Hamilton, I like to scheme Mountain Pointe with down and distance and what they like to do and set it up that way. Hamilton will load the box and lock up man-to-man on the outside. Can they lock down Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown on offense? That’s the big question. If they can’t they might have to play zone and play someone over the top, and that takes someone out of the box. If Cole Luke can lock or slow Jalen down, then Hamilton can pressure the QB and let those LB run stuff down. (Luke Parrish) has great vision and sees everything, and he is making plays with no daylight. Hamilton wants to keep those guys inside and force you to go through the air and beat a guy like Cole Luke.
Mountain Pointe offense vs. Hamilton defense
That’s the thing, those two big offensive lineman for MP (Lacy and Curtis) — run behind those guys because they move people. The trenches are going to be big for Mountain Pointe because they have to get the ball moving on the ground. Hinojosa is coming into his own, but if they can move the ball on the ground he’s a better pure passer than (Hamilton’s) A.J. Thigpen. Hinojosa’s strength is Jalen Brown who’s made (Hinojosa) look really good. He came into his own against Desert Vista and they threw a ton against Mesa because Vaughan knew he needed his quarterback to get going and make that many throws in a game. Having Brown sure helps. I think they’re going to try and hit it to Brown. There’s a lot of speed on Hamilton defense and when Desert Vista tried to run between the tackles earlier this season they got physically beat by Hamilton, so they tried to run wide with fly sweeps and it’s there for a split second, but those Hamilton LB can run their butts off. You have to run between the tackles on Hamilton to have a shot.
Mountain Pointe defense vs. Hamilton offense
I think Mountain Pointe is going to play assignment football because Hamilton runs the option. Mountain Pointe has to make sure who everyone has, because one leak or gap blown is big trouble. If there’s a breakdown on that, that’s where Hamilton kills you. It’s not easy to defend because most big schools aren’t used to defending it. I’d pressure Thigpen because even though he can run and has good scrambling ability, if you pressure them and don’t let Thigpen scramble out you can curtail what they do. Desert Ridge was able to do that most of the time against Hamilton last week. I’d play man-to-man and while Hamilton has pretty good receivers, they’re not going to kill Jalen Brown or those Mountain Pointe guys deep. I think you play man-to-man, crowd the box and hope your guys stay in their gaps until you get burned a few times. They play a ton of man-to-man at Mountain Pointe anyway so it kinda plays into their strengths.