Best in the West: Championship Defense

With teams in the midst of spring football season, why don’t we look ahead to the 2019 season at some of the squads who will be defending their championship seasons?

The Centennial Coyotes and Northwest Christian Crusaders brought titles back to the west valley in November. The ‘Yotes took their seventh state title defeating Notre Dame Prep in the 5A Conference while NCS won a thrilling triple overtime match against Yuma Catholic for the 3A Title.

The 2019 season brings a title defense for those two teams, along with some region champions as well.

 

The Triple Threat

As if running the table with an average win margin of 39 points through 14 games wasn’t enough, the ‘Yotes return key players in 2019 and got better before spring ball even started.

For the first time since 1997, Centennial was shut out. Not by a team from Arizona, but Washington’s Eastside Catholic in the Geico Bowl Series in December. While a 17-0 loss isn’t that bad, it’s almost guaranteed the returning juniors and sophomores learned a great deal battling against a team full of senior giants filled with NCAA DI talent.

Soon-to-be senior quarterback, Jonathan Morris threw for over 2,000 yards in 2018, only allowing four INT’s and hit the endzone 19 times. Offensive and defensive weapons, Eric Haney and Jaydin Young, also return after combining for 110 tackles and 1,291 total yards on 2018.

The game circled on the schedule will be on the road against national powerhouse Mater Dei (CA). But just as a reminder, in the last graduating class, CeHS has defeated nationally ranked, Bishop Gorman (NV) and St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) while keeping it close against Long Beach Poly (CA) and Eastside Catholic (WA). Pretty fancy resume.

As Eric Sorenson mention on his latest Zone Read, the Coyotes never seem to “reset” or rebuild. The championship-caliber talent finds a way of showing up year in and year out.

 

Next Man Up

Is it even possible to argue that a triple-overtime thriller isn’t a spectacular way to earn a state championship? Early on in 2018, Northwest Christian lost to Yuma Catholic, their only L of the year. The rematch in the title game was as epic as possible, with head coach, David Inness, watching his son score the game-winning TD.

Dustin Inness graduates in May alongside other championship stars like Brady Wijbrandts, Levi Bourland, and Derek Henderson, among many others. Spring ball is the first chapter of filling the holes left by the senior class. Coach Inness says the fun part of every spring, is seeing who steps up and those positions.

Regardless of who is receiving the snaps in 2019, veteran leadership comes with it. Junior, Johnathan Metzger, threw 22 touchdowns for 1,355 yards. Fellow 2020 grad, Easton Meier posted seven more TDs alongside his 349 yards. Watching closely behind will be a young 2022 athlete, Blake Sparks.

After a 1,600-yard rushing season to complete Aren Van Hofwegen’s high school career, the running back reins get handed off to the next hungry group. After waiting behind Van Hofwegen, 5-foot-11, 190-pound Jacob Sherwood and 6-foot-1, 200-pound Austin Young will fill the Crusaders’ backfield in 2019 to help once again electrify the offense.

NCS has won double-digit games every year since 2013 and the Crusader’s home-grown talent has the potential to step up and once again be a 3A power.

 

Rise of the Whippersnappers

Desert Edge’s first season in the 4A Conference was highlighted by their close game against region rival Peoria, the game that would essentially win the region championship for the Scorpions.

Even with a ranking of third in the 4A Tournament, the season ended against eventual state champion, Saguaro, in the semifinals. Many know about the production from freshman quarterback Adryan Lara, but more youngsters are on the rise out in Goodyear.

Coach Jose Lucero has big plans for current sophomores, Steven Ortiz Jr, CJ McDowell, Isaibien Ramos, and Cameron Steele on defense. The four combined for 183 tackles in 2018. Ortiz and McDowell combined for nine interceptions, matching Steele’s sack total.

Another large piece of the defense will be another 2021 athlete, R.J. Roberts. Roberts played behind and learned from future San Diego State Aztec, Nassir Sims, last season. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound linebacker will look to add some explosiveness to the middle of Scorpions defense.

This team is built full of young talent and with the Open Division Playoff beginning next year, who knows what the future may hold for a top-tier 4A team.

 

Rising to the Occasion

The Greenway Demons stole the Skyline Region title in the penultimate game of the season against Tempe, taking a 6-0 win on the road clinching their first region championship since 2003.

2019 brings a new QB to the helm of the offense following the graduation of Tyler Duncan who threw for over 2,500 yards and 24 TDs. Duncan heads to Arizona Christian joining fellow former westside QB’s Maverick Gomez (Verrado) and Mahal Lee (Cactus).

No underclassmen complied more than 315 total yards throughout 2018. Fall will bring many opportunities on the offense for Demons to step up to the occasion following a 9-1 season last year.

While the offense gets revamped this spring, the defensive seniors are getting refined for 2019. Three of the team’s top four tacklers were juniors while fellow 2020 athlete, Nick Deaver, racked up 11 sacks.

 

Spring ball might be ending in a couple of weeks, but the season is just starting! Be sure to keep it tuned to Sports360AZ as we get closer to the 2019 edition of #FridayNight360AZ.

 

Arizona native, Devon Henry, joined the Sports360AZ crew in 2018 after graduating from Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Devon has avidly partaken in coverage of the Arizona high school sports scene since 2013 and has covered NASCAR and INDYCAR at Phoenix Raceway since 2017. Devon is also a play-by-play announcer, calling over a dozen different sports and hundreds of events.