Seven days removed from one of the biggest upset wins in program history over Division VI eight-man football power Heber Mogollon in the state quarterfinals last week, Bagdad High is riding a wave of euphoria into Saturday's semifinal round.
The seventh-seeded Sultans (8-2 overall record) came from behind in the fourth quarter to upset No. 2 seed Mogollon, 25-24, this past Friday.
However, Bagdad's road to advancing to its first state title game since 2000 will be difficult this weekend. The Sultans battle undefeated No. 3 seed Pima (9-0) - a tradition-rich football school in southeastern Arizona near Thatcher that has captured eight state titles and eight runner-up trophies since 1959.
Kickoff for the semifinal contest is 2 p.m. Saturday at Sunnyslope H.S. in Phoenix.
Senior QB/defensive back Kendall Jeans, junior tight end/defensive end Kody Low, sophomore running back/LB Casey Jeans and junior wideout/DB James Loveall lead the Sultans.
"We're just talking about staying together and working hard, and we focused a lot on defense this week in practice," said first-year Bagdad coach Dalton Mills, whose program earned its seventh straight playoff berth in mid-October.
"The kids are real confident. They seem to be real loose after last week. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. But I'd rather have them be loose than uptight."
The winner of Bagdad-Pima takes on the victor of the No. 8 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (8-2) vs. No. 4 Glendale Joy Christian (9-0) semi in the state title game at 6 p.m. next Saturday, also at Sunnyslope.
Last Friday, Joy Christian - which is now favored to win the 2012 tournament - ended three-time defending state champion Joseph City's run with a commanding 74-12 victory at home. In 2011, Joy Christian lost to Joe City in the state championship, 38-6, and gained a measure of revenge.
And while Bagdad was taking care of Mogollon, Pima dispatched No. 11 seed Salome, 60-18, in its quarterfinal to advance.
As one of the top four seeds into the D-VI tournament, the Pima Roughriders earned a first-round bye, unlike the Sultans who had to defeat Gilbert Christian Oct. 19 to move on to the quarters.
Not so long ago, in 2004-05, Pima won back-to-back state championships in the former Class 1A. The squad went on to finish as the state runner-up in 2007 and 2008.
Saturday, for the first time in four years, Pima hopes to complete its resurgence by defeating Bagdad and returning to the championship game.
"We've definitely stepped up the program," said second-year Pima coach Jace Hancock, 46, who played running back on the Roughriders' 1A state runner-up teams in 1982 and '83.
Ends Dakota Lines and Dustyn Brown (6-0, 162) factor into the mix as well.
Mills said Judd can cause problems for opposing defenses.
"He's not a big, physical kid, but he does run hard and he does bring the helmet," Mills said. "They seem to run everything through him. We're focusing a lot on containing him."
Pima often calls plays within a tight I-formation, although the club has the capability to play-action pass.
"We have lots of weapons," Hancock said.
The Roughriders hope to counteract Bagdad's size on offense with their quickness on defense.
"We're just going to have to make sure we stay home and not over-pursue," Hancock said.
Defensively, Pima has been stingy, allowing no more than 26 points in a single game this season while pitching two shutouts.
Sophomore lineman Logan Schmidt (6-4, 244), junior nose guard Gunner Kieffer (6-2, 215), senior linebacker Tyson Wright (5-8, 150), cornerback Schmidt and LB/CB Judd pace the Pima D.
"The majority of our team plays Ironman - they go both ways (on offense and defense)," Hancock said. "We have a lot of depth, too, that comes in to trade off and give them some rest."
Hancock said Pima's undefeated run this season is a credit to his players' dedication in the weight room this past off-season. The Roughriders returned several standout players from their 2011 team that also went deep into the state playoffs.
"They definitely want to go as far as they can," he said. "They're definitely looking at a title. They saw how close we came and all the hard work it took."