Sollenberger opener: Pinnacle-Brophy open football twinbill

August 18, 2016 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Brophy Prep and Pinnacle will be hard-pressed to produce the games they played last year in kicking off the 2016 Sollenberger Classic on Saturday (Aug. 20) at Coconino High School's Cromer Stadium in Flagstaff. Kickoff for the first of the Sollenberger twinbill between the 6A combatants is 1 p.m. Two defending champs from last season competing in 5A this year -- Centennial (D-I) and Desert Edge (D-III) -- follow at 6 p.m. at Cromer Stadium.

Pinnacle, ranked No. 5 and Brophy tabbed No. 6 in Sollenberger's Az Prep Football Report preseason rankings, entertained spectators with a 32-31 Pinnacle win in the regular season and a 38-37 double-overtime Brophy triumph in the opening round of the big-school playoffs.

"Both games were exciting for the fans, I know that," Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke said. "It's an honor to be invited to play in this game. It will be a college atmosphere. A Saturday afternoon game. I know our kids are looking forward to it."

Ditto Brophy, who is no stranger to the Sollenberger Classic having played in three of  the previous 14 games in a series that began in 2006 in honor of the late Arizona prep historian/advocate Barry Sollenberger.

Pinnacle enters the season more seasoned with about half of its starters back from a 5-6 squad. Brophy has a about a third of its starters back, but lost more firepower to senior graduates. More of Pinnacle's experience is on offense, headlined by sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler and a veteran offensive line led by Ben Thomas. The rub to the opener for Pinnacle is the health of Rattler.

Zupke has deemed Rattler questionable with a hand injury the Pioneers' staff is monitoring closely.

"It's early, the first game so we want to be cautious," Zupke said. "If it's the playoffs, he's in there and throwing. We'll have to wait and see."

Rattler had his way with Brophy in two contests last year. He threw for a combined 728 yards and 8 touchdowns (no interceptions), including a career-best 420 yards in the playoff loss. What's also giving Zupke pause is the ability he's seen this summer and the last few weeks from another sophomore QB, Keegan Schenk.

"He's a gem," Zupke said. "Our luck. He's shown he can play."

Pinnacle's concern is on defense, where the secondary is the strength and the linebacking corps green.

"Our linebacking is a work in progress," Zupke said. "We're undersized there, but many of the guys playing there are super smart. Their intelligence can make up for lack of size. We'll have to see."

Brophy lost  a lot of key mult-year starters to graduation. Zupke doesn't want his team adopting a false sense of security.

"If we go in thinking Brophy graduated everybody and this will be easy, that's a mistake," "They are well coached, and always compete to the end."

Brophy's starting experience is limited to four on each side of the ball. The Broncos usher in a new quarterback in senior Caleb Moore and his backup, who will also see action -- Matt Ryan. Neither has appreciable varsity experience playing behind Cade Knox a year ago. The top play-maker for Brophy is likely to be senior tailback Noah Pittenger, a strong, all-pupose runner and receiver "lightning in a bottle" as described by coach Scooter Molander.

Tight end Matthew Kempton, the top returning pass catcher, and flanker Robert Brooks, who missed virtually all last season with a broken collarbone, are targets to watch. 

Molander's top returning defenders are senior nose guard George Rivera, a 2-gap stalwart and senior inside linebacker Rexx Tessler, sideline to sideline tackling menace. Tessler is the top returning tackler (92) and registered five sacks last season.