Higley, like Casteel, moved up to 6A for the first time this fall, and the Knights are a 90-yard touchdown catch by the Colts’ Isaiah Newcombe away from being 3-0 instead of Casteel.
Knights coach Eddy Zubey wasn’t sure how his team would react after the Casteel loss, so watching his team dominate the final 28 minutes of a 42-21 victory over Desert Ridge was “pretty special.”
“Losing a heartbreaker to Casteel brings you down,” Zubey said. “The next week is always tough — it’s like Chicken Little, the sky is falling. You don’t know how good you are. To come out and beat a formidable foe like Desert Ridge, and then seeing Casteel beat Queen Creek, lessens the sting a little bit.”
Zubey also enjoyed watching senior quarterback Kai Millner look like the Cal-Berkeley commit he is after two so-so performances. Millner was 27 of 37 for 471 yards and five touchdowns, and he caught a touchdown pass on a trick play from receiver Truitt Robinson (nine catches, 119 yards, two scores).
“It’s such a unique experience to have a player of his caliber,” Zubey said. “We haven’t done the best job of protecting him. For him to stand in there, make the throws he’s made, pick up first downs with his feet is special.”
The Knights also have adjusted to the loss of senior middle linebacker Kayden Sutter to a torn ACL suffered in the first series of the Casteel loss. They played musical chairs with their linebacking corps, moving junior Evani Levrets from weakside to the middle, senior Luke Sharrer from the “jack” to weakside, and inserting sophomore Roman Kupu in Sharrer’s old spot.
They’ve gotten big-time play from junior defensive end Colin Kraemer (team-high 27 tackles, seven for loss) and senior safeties Brit Fleming (18 tackles) and Nik Rieck (21 tackles).
“Brit and Nik have become our leaders now that Kayden is gone,” Zubey said. “And Colin has definitely stepped up. He was a rotational guy last year for us as a sophomore, so we had high expectations for him.”
The Knights defense will now face “a true test” this week when they open Region 2 play against SBLive Power 25 No. 5 Chandler, which romped to a 55-0 victory over Perry in its region opener.
“We’re only one point, one play away from being 3-0,” Zubey said. “What does that say about us? We’ll see on Friday. Chandler is the program everybody in the state aspires to be, but we know if our goal is to win an Open championship, we’re probably going to have to play them twice.”
— René Ferrán; Kai Millner photo by Paul Etnire