After a pair of double-digit victories, the 4A Conference Flagstaff Eagles are at 2-0 and looking ahead to a tough stretch of games.
Although the wins were over a struggling Dysart team and a banged-up Glendale squad, the start is impressive nonetheless in Todd Hanley’s first season at the helm of the football program.
This Friday, the Eagles get the Tempe Buffaloes (1-1), who are easily the best team Flagstaff will see in the early weeks of the season and in Flagstaff’s first true road game of the year.
“They look like a really good football team, definitely the best we have played this season,” Hanley said. “I think Glendale was a real test because it was Game 1, but I think these guys are better as a whole, no disrespect to Glendale. They just look physical and big and it will be more of a test for us to execute as a team.”
For Hanley, he wants his squad to take the season week to week, not looking ahead to opponents down the line such as Flagstaff’s Grand Canyon Region opener the following week against Prescott.
“To me, and not to be cliche, it really is that every week is big for us,” Hanley said. “We are trying to establish ourselves. Every single game is huge from here on out. Obviously it builds momentum having to play region play, but it is just big week to week on its own.”
Tempe opened its season with a 32-27 win over 4A Apache Junction and then the Buffaloes were shut out by 5A McClintock 31-0 last week. Last season against the Eagles, Tempe took an 18-10 win in the Walkup Skydome, rushing for 195 yards on the Flagstaff defense.
This season Tempe has been working to replace the production of a pair of 1,000-yard rushers lost to graduation. So far, the ground game has been its calling card.
Through their first two games this season, Tempe’s running attack is led by Jabree Richardson, who leads the team with 302 rushing yards on a team-high 27 carries, and Isikeli Fakava, who has gained 153 yards on the ground on 17 touches.
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The third back, just behind Fakava, is Tempe senior Sione Tonga’uiha with 14 carries for 73 yards.
The Eagles have seen their share of rushing attacks already and held Glendale’s Kevin Daniels to 100 rushing yards -- nearly 70 yards under his per-game average from a season ago.
Dysart’s official rushing stats from last week aren’t published on MaxPreps.com, but the Demons struggled to get any sort of offensive rhythm moving last week.
Hanley said that after each win he wants his team to clean up some issues on assignments and executing plays.
That has been the emphasis this week at practice, as Hanley is looking for his group to clean up that part of their game. Early on, Hanley said, the Eagles have gotten away with just being more athletic at times -- which can't be what his players rely on at all times.
“Little bit of sloppy stuff, mostly execution,” Hanley said. “I think against a team we can kind of out-athlete, we can get away with mistakes you normally can’t get away with it. I think Tempe has enough athletes out there that they won’t let us get away with that.”
Aside from executing, penalties have been a problem for Flagstaff so far. Flagstaff had about 80 and 100 yards of penalties in the first two games, respectively, and had multiple big plays on defense, offense and special teams called back due to penalties.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Tempe.