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August 17, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
It is a tough position for any coach to be in - starting the year with one of your toughest games. Both Tony Sanchez and Charlie Ragle have to find a way to balance the excitement of a huge opening game with the perspective of how it fits into a long season.
Of course explaining that to high schoolers, when they know they are going to take the field at an NFL stadium that has hosted the Super Bowl for a regionally-televised game, isn't so easy.
So when No. 7 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman plays No. 30 Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral in the Sollenberger Classic Saturday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the coaches' toughest task may come before kickoff.
"We plan on getting there early and having the kids go into the stadium, take a tour, take their pictures, get that breathtaking moment out of the way so we are ready to compete at game time," Bishop Gorman's Sanchez said.
Is it any wonder that this is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week?
Sanchez's squad has been in game like this before. It played in the Sollenberger - the annual matchup of top teams from Nevada and Arizona - last season. It also traveled to Northern California to play perennial power Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.
"We have gained experience playing in these big games," Sanchez said.
Chaparral has not.
The game marks the first out-of-state competition for the Arizona power. Ragle is trying to make sure his team doesn't get caught up in the moment by downplaying the moment.
"This is just one of many games for us this year," he said. "We know we can really make some noise nationally win a victory, but we need to remember that a loss does not derail our goal of winning a state title."
For Bishop Gorman, which rarely struggles within its state borders, the game - this season - is an opportunity to strut its stuff on the national scene.
"We have been talking about what this season can mean for us since spring," Sanchez said. "We talked to the kids and told them the opportunity they have in front of them. But for the last month it has been all about Chaparral. We put the other teams aside; we put the expectations and the hype aside and got focused on the task at hand."
The first step in what could be a national championship season for Bishop Gorman will start with slowing an explosive Chaparral offense.
Ragle wouldn't be shocked to learn of his opponent's game plan.
"Our strength is our skill players," he said. "It is no secret we want to get the ball into DaVonte's hands and let him make plays."
Sanchez has charged his defense with limiting the explosive plays that Neal is able to make.
"Look, we don't expect to stop him," he said. "We have to slow him, contain him, keep him in front of us. But we won't go into a soft-shell defense just to keep him from breaking one; we will be aggressive."
It is in the aggressiveness that Ragle hopes he can create a big play, even if it isn't through Neal.
"We think we see some things we can do," he said. "I am being pretty guarded with my answers because we have been watching film and gameplanning some things we think we can take advantage of.
"We are pretty explosive and it isn't just Brewer and Neal."
As with any game of this magnitude, there is another side to the coin. Chaparral will have to find a way to stop Bishop Gorman. In 2009, the Gales were among the highest-scoring schools in the country, putting up 798 points in 15 games. The 2010 team scored 692 in 15 games; both seasons ended with state titles.
"Man, are they big up front," Ragle said. "They are balanced with run and pass, but we know we will have to stop the run first."
If the team chooses to pass, it will turn to quarterback Jarrett Solomon, a junior in his third year as a starter.
"They are experienced and they are well versed in the system they run," Ragle said. "We will need to force them into some bad decisions and turn the ball over to help our chances."
While both teams have been studying film, each realizes the limitations of film study on a high school football team.
"We are not the same team that is on that tape," Ragle said. "And I know they are not the same team, kids graduate, schemes evolve, it can give us a baseline and maybe learn some coaching tendencies, but this is a new year."
For Sanchez, the only approach he said he can take is to expect his team to do the little things right.
"We want to be smart," he said. "The ultimate complexity is simplicity."
The simple fact, however, remains: Both teams know they need to win their opener to maintain a realistic shot at a national title.