The brutal opening stretch to the 2013 season seems but a distant memory for the Tempe Prep football team.
After the Knights dropped their first three games against formidable opponents, the only feasible way to qualify for the playoffs would have been to win the remaining seven matchups on the team’s schedule. Coming off a five-game winning streak, in which they have outscored foes by a combined point total of 282-19, it’s fair to say the Knights have responded to the challenge accordingly.
The emphatic shift in momentum became immediately evident in the very first play of TPA’s next game. Senior running back Getamesay Wiese, in his second game back after being reinstated to play by the AIA, ran 75 yards for the opening touchdown. It marked the much-awaited first points of the season for the Knights, as well as the first of three scores for Wiese, who TPA coach Mr. Brittain calls “vital to our success.”
Once Tempe Prep got its first taste of the end zone, it couldn’t stop piling on the points thereafter. The following offensive series lasted just one play again, as junior Alex Akiu matched his fellow running back’s effort with a 78-yard sprint of his own. And along with a rushing and passing touchdown on the team’s subsequent drives, the Knights had produced seven points on each of its first four opportunities with the ball.
Unfortunately, Tempe Prep linebacker Ryan Whalen was later injured in the third-quarter of what was already a blowout, suffering a broken fibula and two partially torn ligaments. Coach Brittain described the loss of his senior leader as “a devastating blow to the team because he is a two-way starter.” A return this year hinges on the team’s playoff prospects and Whalen’s rehabbing process, but Coach Brittain remains confident about this issue. He stated that “the Knights will do their part and I am sure that Ryan will do his.”
Before Tempe Prep’s next crucial game against Valley Christian, Coach Brittain tabbed senior Ben LeBeau as the new starting quarterback. While promoting the passing game was important, Coach Brittain felt that a “desire to become a more balanced offense was premature.” Due to struggles in pass protection, he believed that his team “would be more explosive offensively if we stretched the field horizontally with the run, rather than vertically with the pass.” Having LeBeau start at quarterback would best implement this change.
As the quarterback for TPA, LeBeau feels that he brings “a dual-threat to our offense, which lessens the predictability of our offensive attack.” In the next pivotal game facing Valley Christian, the shift in focus back to the running game proved beneficial for Coach Brittain and the team, as the Knights racked up 294 yards on the ground, en route to a decisive 42-0 win.
In addition to keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive, the victory against a respectable Valley Christian team validated Tempe Prep’s improvement over the course of the season, and the resulting turnaround. Blowing by weaker opponents proved little, but this latest win showed that the Knights remain a team no one will hope to encounter this season or in the playoffs.
Tempe Prep continued on an upswing in its following contests, demolishing Chandler Prep (60-0) and Scottsdale Christian (55-13) in two away games, and overpowering Veritas Prep (62-6) at home. The Knights’ relentless rushing attack once again dictated all three lopsided matchups, amassing an average of 336 yards for each game, with touchdown runs coming from eight different players.
And as if the ground game had not been powerful enough, the developments of tailbacks Isaiah and Zach Brittain have further stabilized this facet of TPA’s offense. This has become fully noticeable at the end of the team’s first eight games, as the two have combined to punch in twelve touchdowns, particularly excelling in goal line situations and in runs after contact. Coach Brittain noted that they are his “most physical runners, and the way this season has played out we have just begun to explore their potential.”
After enduring struggles early on in the 2013 season, the TPA football team knows a playoff berth remains more than manageable, with a matchup against Scottsdale Prep posing as the last, true remaining obstacle. “After battling hard and experiencing the pain of defeat in the first three games of our season, and with our committed coaches who sacrifice so much,” LeBeau said, “I know we have the toughness and desire that can lead us to a state championship.”
*Published on October 24th.