Firebirds’ to face Desert Ridge after first-round win

The Chaparral High School football team won its first-round playoff game on Friday, Nov. 6 over Highland High School 19-14, but the win left much to be desired in the eyes of the Firebirds.

Chaparral (9-2) head coach Conrad Hamilton says he borrowed a quote that University of Florida head football coach Jim McElwain used after a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt University.

“When you’re on championship run, sometimes you’ve got to win games like that to accomplish the goal of being a championship football team,” Hamilton said in a Nov. 9 phone interview. “I think that was one of those games the other night, where we still found a way to win.”

Coach Hamilton says the Firebirds’ struggles were particularly present in their red-zone offense.

“Highland did a great job; they had a good game plan,” he said. “We faltered a lot down in the red area, and that’s been our Achilles’ heel. We hope to continue to improve on that. Our resiliency and just knowing how to win and believing we’re going to win have been the key for us.”

While Chaparral’s red-zone offense may have faltered last Friday, its defense excelled when their backs were against the wall.

“We feel like no one can score on us,” Hamilton said. “Our guys know if we get lined up and play and execute like we’re supposed to, it’s going to be tough for teams to get into the end zone on us. They just kept having that belief and playing and executing.”

The Firebirds were in control for most of the game, until Highland took a 14-13 lead with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, according to MaxPreps.com. Coach Hamilton says his team’s experience with close games allowed them to come back late in the fourth quarter with a 25-yard rushing touchdown courtesy of senior running back Spencer Greenberg.

“Our kids didn’t panic,” Coach Hamilton said. “They knew that they were still under control, they still went out there and had to execute on offense and defense, knowing they had to get the football back so we could get into the end zone one more time.”

Coach Hamilton says despite the mistakes, the Firebirds were able to come together and rally for a win.

“It was a great team victory,” he said. “It’s funny, we still haven’t played an ‘A’ game and, you know, we’re going to need to this week versus Desert Ridge. But, it’s always good to win when you don’t play your best.”

Up next: Desert Ridge

The Firebirds will not be able to commit as many errors if they are going to emerge victorious against the powerful offense of Desert Ridge at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13.

The Jaguars (9-2) are led by junior quarterback CJ Fowler, who has thrown for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, according to MaxPreps.com.

Desert Ridge averages 234.2 rushing yards per game, and the bulk of that load is carried by junior running back Jathan Tenorio. In 11 games, Tenorio has rushed for 1,205 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Coach Hamilton says the heavy-rushing Highland team Chaparral played in the first round will help the Firebirds prepare for its second-round matchup.

“We need to stop the run and get them into those passing situations,” he said. “The Highland game showed us a lot. It showed us how we need to prepare for other teams and what we need to correct. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise that we had that close game and played a team like Highland, from a defensive standpoint, in preparing for Desert Ridge.”

Desert Ridge’s offense did not have its typical video game-like stats in its first-round win over Liberty High School. The Jaguars rushed for 95 yards on 36 carries, the first time they have been held under 100 yards rushing as a team this season, according to MaxPreps.com.

Despite the slower-than-normal offense, the Jaguars put up 31 points in the win.

Hamilton says the Chaparral offense will need to play much better, especially when they’re in scoring range, if the Firebirds want to leave Desert Ridge with a win.

“Once we get down there, we’re kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns,” he said. “We just haven’t been managing the game correctly, in my opinion, in those situations and that’ll be something that we emphasize this week big time. Our red zone efficiency has to be much better than what it is, because we’re going to have to score more than 20 points to beat this football team.”

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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