A year ago, Notre Dame Preparatory football was wading through a bog of controversies, firings and rule violations that ultimately led the sport’s governing body to ban the school from its postseason.
This year, the water appears pristine.
The Saints have garnered a 10–0 record and have won the Northeast Valley Region as they cruise into a first-round home matchup as the No. 4 seed in the 5A playoffs. The first stop on their journey to the state championship is against No. 13 Desert Edge.
The last time NDP went into the playoffs undefeated, they won the state championship in 2008. This 2008 win capped off back-to-back state championship appearances, according to maxpreps.com.
To have another opportunity to make a run at the state crown means a lot to the team, running back Cole Fisher said, especially after 2016’s trials.
“Obviously we were upset about last year but the past is in the past and no one on this team has been to the playoffs so we’re just excited to be there,” he said in an Oct. 31 interview.
In fact, this will be NDP’s first playoff appearance since 2012, which was a 45–9 loss to Salpointe Catholic.
The Saints could have made last year’s playoffs as they finished 8–2 and won the region but violations of Arizona Interscholastic Association rules regarding recruiting and an out-of-season football class prevented their participation.
Several changes happened over the offseason including moving first-year Head Coach George Prelock up from the freshmen squad.
Senior quarterback Kylan Weisser, who Coach Prelock coached as a freshman, said when the school brought on the new coach, it was “one of the greatest moments” he’s had at NDP.
“He’s been supportive and there for me in tough times that don’t even relate to football,” Weisser said in an Oct. 31 interview. “I just love him as a person and I think that’s the feeling everybody on this team has with Coach Prelock.”
Through Coach Prelock’s leadership, the team has put the past behind them completely, Weisser said, and the Saints now look to the playoffs.
Heading in, Fisher said the statement he wants to make is that NDP can play with anyone in 5A.
The team believes this, Fisher said, because of the talent on the field and the coaching leadership on the sidelines.
However, Coach Prelock said he wants to take the postseason one game at a time.
He said it’s not hard to get this team to buy into this mentality because they’ve been practicing it all season long.
“Especially after everything we’ve been through, we really appreciate where we’re at,” Coach Prelock said in an Oct. 31 interview. “Not saying that we’re satisfied but we appreciate the opportunity we have and we want to make the most of it.”
Notre Dame Prep will have a rematch against Desert Edge High School (7–3, 4–1 Desert West) out of Goodyear. The Saints took the second-week matchup 27–21 in overtime.
The Scorpions have a comparable rushing attack to the Saints.
As a whole, NDP ranks fourth in 5A in rushing yards and fifth in rushing yards per game. Desert Edge ranks third in both categories.
Running back Rocky Perez leads Desert Edge’s rushing attack with an average of 132.1 rushing yards per game and 14 touchdowns. NDP’s top rusher is Fisher with an average of 107.6 yards per game.
The Saints’ defense slowed the Scorpions’ rushing attack to just 90 yards the first time around.
The Scorpions’ defense averages about 154 rushing yards per game and since the team’s first two losses of the season, has not given up more than 200 rushing yards in a game.
That defense will be tasked with trying to control Fisher (18 rushing touchdowns) and running back Jake Smith (87.9 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns).
In the pass game, Desert Edge has only thrown for a little more than 56 yards per game and six touchdowns. This compares to NDP’s 175.2 passing yards per game, which Smith leads with nine receiving touchdowns.
While NDP has seen this team before, Coach Prelock said it’s tough when you face a team for the second time in a season.
“Coach (Jose) Lucero down there does an outstanding job,” he said. “They’re an extremely talented team and we’re just looking forward to be in the playoffs again and have the opportunity to play them again.”
In order to be successful, Coach Prelock said his team needs to not commit turnovers and it needs to key in on what it does best, which include running, play actions and throwing the ball.
Around the horn
Four other Scottsdale area schools are in the playoffs this year. Chaparral, Desert Mountain, Horizon and Saguaro all have spots in their respective tournament brackets.
No. 10 Chaparral @ No. 7 Williams Field — This is a 5A rematch from week four of the regular season where Chaparral (6–4, 3–1 Northeast Valley) took down the defending state champions Williams Field at home. This time around, Williams Field (8–2, 4–0 San Tan) will be the home team.
The Firebirds come in averaging 59 points per game over their last three games while allowing about 16 points per game defensively. The Black Hawks have gone undefeated since their loss to the Firebirds and features a stingy defense that allows about 12 points per game.
No. 9 Desert Mountain @ No. 8 Highland — Desert Mountain (6–4, 3–2 Desert Valley) is back in the 6A playoffs after missing 2016. Highland (7–3, 3–2 Central) has its first winning record since 2013 and also returns to the playoffs after a year away.
The Wolves feature one of the 6A’s most potent passing attacks with junior quarterback Kedon Slovis coming in at a fourth in 6A in passing yards. The Hawks have a pretty balanced attack with averages of 117.7 rushing yards per game and 136.5 passing yards per game.
No. 10 Horizon @ No. 7 Red Mountain — After making it to the semifinals last year as a No. 13 seed, Red Mountain (8–2, 5–0 East Valley) will look to make another statement. Horizon (7–3, 3–2 Desert Valley) returns to the 6A playoffs for the first time since 2014.
The Huskies’ defense has allowed an average of 18 points per game and at times, has held teams to under 14 points six times this season. The Mountain Lions feature a balanced offense with averages of about 155 passing yards per game and 166 rushing yards per game.
No. 2 Saguaro vs. No. 15 Mingus Union — Saguaro (8–2, 4–0 Skyline) comes into the 4A playoffs in the hunt for its fifth straight state championship and its 11th overall. That journey to No. 11 starts with Mingus Union (5–5, 5–1 Grand Canyon).
The Sabercats feature one of the top passing attacks in 4A, averaging 241 yards per game. The Marauders rush for about 261 yards per game with running backs Alex Nelson and Tyler Kelly running for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns each.