Championship Placement Bewildering

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Coaches, players and fans from around the state were left scratching their heads in bewilderment when the 2009 AIA 3A State Football Championship pairings were announced after Friday’s games.

A portion of the perplexity is probably because power points were awarded this season only on the final seven games.

A new computerized scheduling system in which every team didn’t have to play a full slate of 10 games forced the change. Some teams this year played as few as eight games.

Those teams that did play 10 games, but didn’t fare well in the first three, were not penalized in the power point system.

The playoff seeding bafflement began with the determination of No. 1 involving Fountain Hills and Blue Ridge. Both teams tied for the lead in power points, even though Blue Ridge was 9-0 on the season and seriously challenged only once. Fountain Hills was 8-2 overall, losing 27-21 to Estrella Foothills and 9-6 to Wickenburg.

But because of the power points tie, AIA officials were forced to go all the way to the fourth tiebreaker — “Highest ranked opponent that counted for power points” — to break the dead knot between the Yellow Jackets and Falcons.

Apparently “most wins during the season” or “best overall record” was not one of the tiebreakers.

Since Fountain Hills’ highest-ranked win was over No. 6 Empire, and Blue Ridge’s highest-ranked win was against No. 7 Round Valley, FH takes the No. 1 seed to state and the Jackets fall to No. 2.

That seems particularly odd since the Jackets were the state’s top-ranked team and championship favorite all season long.

Slighting the undefeated Jackets makes a bit more sense when it is remembered the first three games of the season were not counted in the power points rankings. Fountain Hills’ two losses occurred in the first two games of the season.

Adding even more controversy were the records and accomplishments of some of the lesser teams to make it into the tournament. Some schools seem almost unworthy of a playoff berth.

For example, Window Rock has the tournament’s No. 16 seed, despite finishing with a 5-5 overall record and 3-3 in the football-impaired North region.

During the season, the Fighting Scouts lost 61-16 to Round Valley, 65-12 to Winslow and 47-28 to Monument Valley.

MV actually finished with a 4-6 overall record, but is going to state with a 13th seed, mostly because the team was third in the North region.

Those credentials are hardly worthy of playoff teams.

There are those in small-town Arizona vehemently arguing that four teams left out of the state tournament — Payson, Coolidge, Santa Cruz and River Valley — are actually head and shoulders above Window Rock and Monument Valley.

Also, a very weak 4-6 Parker team that was fourth in the West region, advances as a No. 15 seed.

During the season, the Broncos lost 42-0 to Class 2A Yuma Catholic, 63-0 to Wickenburg, 56-6 to Estrella Foothills and 35-14 to a Santa Cruz team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

For Longhorn fans, Chino Valley’s No. 8 berth in the tournament is a bitter pill to swallow since Payson, who will not be in the state tournament, beat the Cougars 22-21 on Sept. 6.

CV never proved to be much of a powerhouse, falling 21-3 to Estrella Foothills, 46-0 to South Pointe and 21-0 to 2A Camp Verde.

Then there’s the issue with Holbrook advancing with a fairly lofty No. 10 seed.

During the season, the Roadrunners lost to Snowflake 15-6, Blue Ridge 57-0 and Winslow 38-16. Holbrook, however, thrived on the weak reservation teams from the North region.

All in all, the tournament seedings seemed to favor the schools that are aligned in the weaker regions and give lesser berths to those from the tougher regions, such as the East.

Only time will tell how the tournament unfolds, but there are those predicting an All-East final, just as there was last year between Blue Ridge and Payson. If an all-East showdown occurs, oddsmakers are saying it would be Blue Ridge against either Snowflake or Show Low.

In other parts of the state, however, fans are predicting the East’s gridiron reign is over, and Fountain Hills, Estrella Foothills and Wickenburg are the real state title threats.

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