First round of Chaparral playoffs to take place in Scottsdale

The Chaparral Firebirds open up the first round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division I playoffs with a matchup against Highland High School in Scottsdale.

The two teams are meeting for the first time this season, a theme that is uncommon in the familiar Division I bracket.

Chaparral senior running back/safety Kurt Shugart says playing an opponent for the first time in the playoffs has both benefits and drawbacks.

“An advantage of playing someone we haven’t played before is they don’t know what we run so they don’t know what we’re going to come out in,” Shugart said in a Nov. 2 phone interview. “A disadvantage is the same exact thing—we’re going to go out and play a team we haven’t seen, so we don’t know what they’re going to come out in. We just have to be prepared.”

Head coach Conrad Hamilton says although the teams are new to each other, the film will reveal consistencies that will help form a game plan.

“Let’s put together a game plan based on what we see and go at it,” he said in a Nov. 1 phone interview. “I don’t think that a lot of teams that have gone through ten weeks of football are going to change how they substitute and what they’re doing.”

The Firebirds (8-2) will look to slow the rushing attack of Highland (4-6), which averages 217.5 yards on the ground per game, according to MaxPreps.com.

“Our kids like to blitz and get after the quarterback,” Coach Hamilton said. “We have to earn the right to rush the passer. That means on first and second down you have to stop the run…They do like to run, they are run-heavy in some of those bigger personnel groups. We just have to hold down the fort. Our guys have to know what plays they’re getting out of certain formations and read their keys and flow to the football.”

Hamilton says the Firebirds will need to remain disciplined in the secondary as well in order to avoid getting beat on play-action passes.

Highland junior wide receiver Tyler Johnson is a target for big plays, as he averages over 20 yards per catch. The Hawks’ junior quarterback Jake Kersting has thrown nine touchdowns this season and five of them have gone to Johnson, according to MaxPreps.com.

A team that runs the ball as often as Highland is bound to have a time-of-possession advantage and Chaparral junior quarterback Grayson Barry says the Firebirds will need to be efficient on offense in order to even the possession battle.

“We need to take our time and choose our plays wisely,” he said in a Nov. 2 phone interview. “When we throw the ball, we need to get completions and when we run the ball we need to gain yards.”

Running the ball has not been an issue this season for the Firebirds, as seniors Kurt Shugart and Spencer Greenberg have shared the load. Greenberg has 126 carries on the season, while Shugart has 125.

In the regular season, Shugart led the team with 773 yards on the ground and Greenberg was close behind with 758. The two-headed attack combined for 21 of the Firebirds’ 23 rushing touchdowns.

“Spencer’s been our leading ball carrier over the last two years,” Coach Hamilton said. “With Kurt running the ball and playing on defense and returning the ball and being on some of our coverage units, he really doesn’t come off the field. We’re just in a situation with our depth and what’s going on where we thought, ‘how do we utilize (Shugart) more in short-yardage situations, goal line situations or just those critical down and distances that we would need him out there.”

“Spencer’s been doing a good job of carrying the load when we need him to, his yards-per-carry is right there with Kurt’s. We have confidence in him-that says a lot about Spencer.”

Chaparral is not focusing on the Hawks’ losing record. There are 17 Division I teams and 16 playoff spots, so teams with losing records in the playoffs were inevitable.

Barry says the opponent does not change anything; they are just another obstacle in front of the ultimate goal.

“They’re another team that’s in our way of getting that ring,” Barry said. “There’s obviously going to be some lower records, but they can still surprise us. We have to be on our game.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 at Chaparral High School, 6935 E. Gold Dust Ave. in Scottsdale.

A team shot of the 2014 Chaparral High football team. (Submitted photo)

A team shot of the 2014 Chaparral High football team. (Submitted photo)

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.