Division III football predictions
Saguaro’s loss to Chaparral leaves us plenty of intrigue heading into the Division III postseason, which begins with the first round on Friday. It’s tough to accurately gauge how well the contenders will fare against each other since the top four teams (Tucson Sabino, Goodyear Desert Edge, Queen Creek and Scottsdale Saguaro) are all on opposite ends geographically and have few common opponents.
Here are my thoughts on how the tournament plays out. I’ll do my Division II predictions Tuesday and Division I Wednesday.
First round: No. 1 Desert Edge over No. 16 Shadow Ridge; No. 9 Saguaro over No. 8 Cactus; No. 5 Williams Field over No. 12 Campo Verde; No. 4 Liberty over No. 13 Paradise Valley; No. 3 Sabino over No. 14 Nogales; No. 11 Sunrise Mountain over No. 6 Sahuarita; No. 10 Thunderbird over No. 7 Maricopa; No. 2 Queen Creek over No. 15 Agua Fria.
Analysis: It could be an interesting first round. The top-3 seeds should win, but Liberty-Paradise Valley, Williams Field-Campo Verde, Sahuarita-Sunrise Mountain, Maricopa-Thunderbird and Cactus-Saguaro could all reasonably go either way. I took lower-seeded teams Saguaro, Thunderbird and Sunrise Mountain to win, but I wouldn’t really consider any of them the underdogs.
Quarterfinals: No. 9 Saguaro over No. 1 Desert Edge; No. 4 Liberty over No. 5 Williams Field; No. 3 Sabino over No. 11 Sunrise Mountain; No. 2 Queen Creek over No. 10 Thunderbird.
Analysis: Saguaro-Desert Edge is the big potential matchup, as the Sabercats are aiming for a sixth title in seven years but will likely see the undefeated Scorpions in the second round. I took the Sabercats because of their track record but that game will be quite interesting. Williams Field gets a favorable second-round matchup against Liberty but I don’t think the Black Hawks are a semifinal team this year. Sabino has given up the second-fewest points in D-III and Sunrise Mountain has scored the fourth-most, so that will be an interesting clash of styles. Queen Creek-Thunderbird also has the potential to be a good game, featuring two of the best running backs (Matt Guida and Kani Benoit) in the state.
Semifinals: No. 9 Saguaro over No. 4 Liberty; No. 2 Queen Creek over No. 3 Sabino.
Analysis: The winner of the Saguaro-Desert Edge quarterfinal matchup should make the title game. The other side isn’t so easy, as Queen Creek and Sabino have both dominated. The Bulldogs’ schedule has been tougher but there’s no denying Sabino’s worth, as it has been a postseason mainstay for years. Sabino is the only team to beat Saguaro in the playoffs since 2006 and the two could very well meet in the finals. However, I like Queen Creek’s offensive balance and disciplined defense. Matt Guida is a standout running back, and if he can perform against a stout Sabino defense, the Bulldogs can win.
Championship game: No. 2 Queen Creek 38, No. 9 Saguaro 34
Analysis: Am I reading too much into Saguaro’s loss to Chaparral? Maybe. But it’s clear the Sabercats’ offensive line does not have the same star power or overall size as in years past, and while running backs Gena Adams and Kash Robinson are solid, they’re not game-breakers. Saguaro takes advantage of defensive breakdowns better than just about anyone, but the Bulldogs don’t have many of those issues. On the flip side, Queen Creek running back Matt Guida will get his yards against Saguaro, which would open up the passing game. Queen Creek has been knocked out of the playoffs by the Sabercats the past two years. I think the Bulldogs get their revenge to win this year’s Division III title.