Best in the West: Round 1 Preview 2019

The playoffs have arrived! With the Open Division Playoff taking away some of the best teams in the state, the 6A, 5A, and 4A Tournaments all look wide open. A number of west side schools look like they can take the crown in 2019 and plenty of teams are facing off in intense first-round battles.

 

Game of the Week: #10 Greenway @ #7 Peoria

The 4A Conference looks wide open, making first-round games even more exciting. For the first time this year, a young Greenway offense will have an opportunity to battle against a top 4A team. Peoria was a four seed in 2018 and enters this year as a seven seed. The Panthers were flawless until facing fellow 4A powers, Desert Edge and Cactus, in the West Valley Region.

The visiting Greenway Demons are coming off a shutout against rival, Moon Valley, and a 13-12 win over Tempe that clinched a Skyline Region Championship for a second straight year. The 9-1 team has seen sophomore QB, Aodhan Murphy play well, throwing for over 1,100 yards and rushing for another 330. A huge power in the backfield though has been junior, Christian Johnson. The running back has totaled nearly 1,600 rush yards to pick up 20 TDs. Defensively, junior, Aaron Gerle has been a stud. Gerle has totaled 13 sacks, 71 tackles, and 23 tackles for loss, leading the Demons in all categories.

The Panthers have a wicked run game of their own. Sophomore, Cameron Mack, has continued to evolve after a good slew of snaps as a freshman as well. Mack has posted 14 touchdowns on 792 yards this year. Senior, Micho Cordero, has also been vital in the backfield, breaking into the endzone ten more times for the Panthers. As if that weren’t enough weapons, keep an eye on senior, Jovon Scott. Totaling over 1,000 receiving yards for 14 touchdowns, Scott looks to make a run in the tournament for his senior year after a huge upset loss in the first round last year. Senior, Gabriel Ocampo, will back up the defense looking to add onto his 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2019.

The winner of this game will likely see a familiar opponent. If Greenway wins, they’ll rekindle the “Battle of Greenway Road,” a rivalry that brewed for years between Greenway and Cactus, only separated three-and-a-half miles down Greenway Road from one another. Their rivalry meetings ended last year when Greenway was realigned into the Skyline Region. If Peoria wins, that will commence the 35th rivalry meeting between Peoria and Cactus, the two oldest establishments in the Peoria District. Cactus and Peoria are coming off a thrilling 20-14 rivalry thriller that ended the 2019 season.

 

Northwest vs Southwest

#10 La Joya Community @ #7 Liberty

A battle between the Northwest and Southwest will have a spotlight in the 6A Tournament. While the Lobo’s 8-2 record and Southwest Region Championship is impressive, Liberty will have an edge with what they learned in their strength of schedule.

The roller coaster is still on the rails into La Joya’s first tournament appearance in over a decade. Coach Devin Dourisseau in his first year at head coach has brought all he’s learned as an assistant the past few years and capitalized on the momentum made in last year’s 7-3 season. This year has been headlined by Miguel Valdovinos’41 pass touchdowns on the year. The senior can surpass 3,000 pass yards in 2019 with just 133 yards on the road against a tough Liberty defense. Three Lobo receivers have cashed in nine or more TDs with over 690 yards receiving. Senior, Alfred Jordan, has been a great option in the backfield as well as scoring ten more touchdowns and raking up over 50 more yards per game.

The Lions had a chance to spoil Chaparral’s chances at making the Open Division Playoff but fell about two seconds short. The Liberty defense held future Ohio State QB Jack Miller to just 30 points through 47 minutes and 58 seconds. Miller’s 14-yard pass TD at the buzzer though handed Liberty a loss to end the season 36-35. The 6-4 Liberty defense will be out for vengeance now. Be on the lookout for senior Isaiah Pittman who has racked up three sacks and a team-leading 15 tackles for loss. Sophomore Jax Stam will likely throw himself in the mix as well, leading Liberty with 66 total tackles and picked off Jack Miller last week as well, only the second player in AZ to do so this year.

The victor of this first-round battle will take on the winner of Mountain View Mesa @ Brophy Prep next Friday night. If Liberty can outlast the Lobos, the Lions will feel confident going against a team that only beat Liberty 9-6 in the season opener.

 

A Rematch from Week One

#10 Sunnyslope @ #7 Cienega

After just sneaking into the tournament last year as the final seed, the Vikings’ 6-4 season ranked them tenth in the 5A Conference. Their losses came to Open Eight members, Horizon and Centennial, and two of the top teams in 5A, Notre Dame Prep and Sunrise Mountain.

Their experience battling top-notch teams is what could make coach Pieri’s team dangerous. Senior QB, Niko Haen, has had this offense rolling, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and rushing in two touchdowns as well. Naturally, his connection with David Haen has been electric. The two have combined for 11 touchdowns and over 800 yards. Niko also has a variety of weapons on offense to keep the ball moving against a Cienega defense that held Sunnyslope to ten points in their meeting to open the season.

They battle Cienega, coming off an 8-2 season looking to get back to at least the semifinals after a round two loss to Centennial last season. The Tucson school has been pounding the turf, averaging 230 yards per game on the grass, scoring 27 TDs that way. The Viking defense must step up on the front line with their senior leadership. Seniors Nathan Steffen, Jacob Haddox, Teddy Kieborz, and Kaden Taylor, have all totaled three sacks on the year.

If Sunnyslope can pull off the win, they’ll have to face second-seeded, Notre Dame Prep who they lost to 41-14 in their season opener, unless Verrado can pull off a huge upset. Regardless, an upset win for the Vikings would give them their first quarterfinals appearance since their trip to the semifinals in 2015.

 

Fighting for More

# 9 Cesar Chavez @ #8 Desert Ridge

The Champions enter the 6A State Tournament coming off seven straight wins and a 6A Metro Region Championship. Cesar Chavez locked in their best record since their 2015 performance that took them to the quarterfinals.

This year, they were only one spot away from hosting in the first round of the tournament, but instead, they’ll head to the east side to take on Desert Ridge. CCHS has been blasting opponents with a slew of offensive productivity. To go along with the defense’s four shutouts in 2019, the offense has averaged 44 points per game behind nearly 3,000 total yards from senior, Lucas Arnds.

While Arnds has thrown for over 2,200 yards in 2019, he also rushed for 10 touchdowns. Fellow senior, Tyraill Carrethers, has been a big help in the backfield putting up 813 rush yards with nine more Champion touchdowns. Defensively, Antwaun Winfield has swallowed up offenses, racking up six sacks and 22 tackles for loss.

Awaiting the winner of this game will likely be the Perry Pumas, last year’s 6A runner-ups, or a revitalized Mountain Ridge team. Cesar Chavez looks for their ninth win of the year on Friday night, but beating a disciplined Desert Ridge team is always a challenge.

 

A total of 18 West Valley teams will participate in this week’s first-round games, so there should be plenty of events for fans to choose from. Be sure to go out and support your teams and join in on the conversation using #FridayNight360AZ.

 

Best in the West: 11/8

6A Championship:

14 Mountain Ridge @ 2 Perry

13 Boulder Creek @ 4 Queen Creek

12 Valley Vista @ 5 Highland

10 La Joya Community @ 7 Liberty

9 Cesar Chavez @ 8 Desert Ridge

 

5A Championship:

15 Verrado @ 2 Notre Dame Prep

14 Ironwood @ 3 Higley

12 Gilbert @ 5 Millennium

10 Sunnyslope @ 7 Cienega

9 Buena @ 8 Sunrise Mountain

 

4A Championship:

16 Glendale @ 1 Sahuaro

15 Tempe @ 2 Cactus

13 Prescott @ 4 Desert Edge

10 Greenway @ 7 Peoria

 

3A Championship:

14 Odyssey Institute @ 3 Northwest Christian

 

2A Championship:

15 Morenci Jr./Sr. @ 2 Trivium Prep

 

*Bold = West Valley school

 

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.