It’s about to get real serious around here.
This is the last week of freedom games as all seven area teams finish up the non-region portion of the football schedule this week.
One last tune-up before the chance to hang a region championship banner in the rafters gets started.
The East Valley Region, which houses six of the seven area teams, is up for grabs at this point with no clear-cut favorite.
Mountain View (2-2) and Red Mountain (2-2) are the highest ranked teams by MyNewsMesa.com with their defeats all coming against top five teams.
Defending champion Skyline opened the year with a region over Westwood so the Coyotes are in first already, but they are young and need to shore some things up before becoming a top contender.
Dobson, Westwood and Mesa appear to be in the second tier but it isn’t as a big of a gap as it was last season.
The first full week of East Valley Region games will tell a lot considering the presumed top four teams face off – Mountain View at Skyline and Dobson at Red Mountain play on Thursday, Sept. 28.
Desert Ridge (3-1) is in the Central Region, which is one of the toughest in 6A.
The Jaguars will have Mountain Pointe (3-1), Gilbert (3-1), Highland (5-0) and Desert Vista (3-1) to contend with along with Corona del Sol (1-4).
It starts with Gilbert next week and then Corona follows before taking on Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, both of which beat Desert Ridge last season, and closing out with Highland.
There are some interesting games on the schedule this week, but the real intrigue begins in the weeks to come as the region standings begin to take shape.
Here’s a look at this week’s games:
Red Mountain (2-2) at Gilbert (3-1)
The Mountain Lions have followed last year’s script so far. Lose to Chandler and Hamilton to open the year and come back with a win streak.
Last year it stretched four games before losing to Mountain View and then pulled it together to make the semifinals.
Can a similar run be duplicated? Possibly, but one thing that seems to be sure is this week’s game won’t be as easy as last year’s 48-0 win over the Tigers.
Red Mountain is playing better and a win is certainly a possibility, but the Mountain Lions will need to be even better this week.
Sophomore running back Ty McElroy has stepped into the spotlight after just 10 carries through the first two games. In the two wins, he has 47 carries for 292 yards.
A similar performance will go a long way in putting the Mountain Lions in position for another win.
The Tigers are playing the third of four straight game against Mesa-based football programs after easily beating Dobson and Westwood.
It’s not the same team that went 1-9 in 2016.
The offense has been producing a lot of points (41 points a game) as quarterback Jack Plummer, no relation to Jake, has grown into one of the top QBs in the 6A Conference.
The Tigers beat a 5A team (Mesquite), and two East Valley Region squads that finished in the lower half of the standings and lost to a 5A team (Campo Verde).
It’s going to come down to which defense makes that one stop at the end of the game. I’ll take the defense that has Justin Coleman and Delton Jackson on it.
Red Mountain 24, Gilbert 21
Desert Vista (3-1) at Dobson (3-1)
The Thunder have been impressive so far, possibly having their best team since winning the state title in 2012, behind Nevada transfer Derek Kline at quarterback, three targets in the passing game and a stout defense, led by linebacker Larry Davis.
Desert Vista has given Perry its toughest game thus far, and beat quality programs in Basha, Skyline and Brophy in what appear to be down years. The Thunder D held all three opponents under 20 points in victory.
Dobson has beaten the teams on the schedule it should, but were thumped 48-0 by Gilbert two weeks ago. Obviously, a better showing must be in the offing if the Mustangs are going to be taken serious.
The Gilbert game was the first career start for Nicolas Saro, a junior transfer, after replacing the injured Mikey Valdez. One of the team leaders admitted he didn’t really know Saro heading into the Gilbert game.
The offense had to change to accommodate Saro’s inexperience under center as he played mostly out of shotgun formations.
Everything should be more familiar for everyone now, and the Mustangs will play Desert Vista tougher than they did Gilbert, but it won’t be enough.
Desert Vista 28, Dobson 13
6A Conference schedule (predicted winners in bold)
Desert Mountain at Desert Ridge
Brophy at Mountain View
Basha at Mesa
Hamilton at Skyline
Westwood at Tolleson
Cibola at Alhambra
Central at Camelback
Maryvale at Carl Hayden
Fairfax at Chavez
Mountain Ridge at Chandler
Trevor Browne at Copper Canyon
Boulder Creek at Corona del Sol
North at Horizon
Sandra Day O’Connor at Millennium
Pinnacle at Mountain Pointe
Rincon at Palo Verde
Highland at Perry
Cienega at Tucson
La Joya at Sierra Linda
Desert View at Sunnyside
Centennial at Westview
Valley Vista at Willow Canyon
Kofa at Yuma
Last week: 20-4. Season’s record: 78-36 (.684)
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.