Best in the West 2020: Quarterfinals Preview

Arizona Sports News online

The state tournaments are here and the West Valley has heavy hitters across the brackets. After you’re done stuffing turkey and potatoes in your face on Thanksgiving, there will be some major west vs. west battles alongside some west side teams eyeing a state title run the following night.

 

Open Division: #5 Liberty @ #4 Centennial

A West Valley rivalry takes one of the biggest stages in Arizona High School Football. Peoria Unified Schools, Liberty and Centennial will face off in the Open Division Playoff as the #4 and #5 seeds. For the second time in this matchup’s history, these schools face each other in back-to-back weeks.

In last week’s meeting, Centennial’s defense made the difference in the fourth quarter claiming a 34-24 victory. Neither offense seemed to find a rhythm in the first half and the defenses shined. The fourth quarter was dominated by the CeHS defense and the ‘Yotes outscored Liberty in the final 19 minutes 20-0. Centennial sophomore, Shane Washington made two game-changing interceptions while DJ Gleash came up with a pair of sacks in the game.

Liberty fell short on offense without two key playmakers on the field. In order for Liberty to flip the score on Centennial seven days later, the Lions will need more production from sophomore running back, Zaccheus Cooper, as well as senior quarterback, Brock Mast who completed 14 passes on 30 attempts. This Liberty offense is capable of getting more points on the board. Mast has thrown for nearly 1,800 yards while Cooper has been a hard-charging heartbeat of the offense racking up 835 total yards. 

Liberty and Centennial have met three times in the postseason including the 2014 DII State Championship. Somehow, someway, these teams find a way to face off when it matters the most. The winner of this game will battle either #8 Desert Edge or a fearsome #1 Chandler, that both of these teams lost to earlier this year.

6A: #8 Shadow Ridge @ #1 Boulder Creek

After a strong victory against Sunnyslope last week, Boulder Creek has earned the number one seed in the 6A Conference. In search of their first post-season win since 2010, the Jags welcome a West Valley team they had never faced before 2020, Shadow Ridge.

This is Shadow Ridge’s first tournament appearance since 2013 and if they want to move on to the semifinals, they must find a way to defeat a team who they lost to 49-12 just three weeks ago. In that game, sophomore, Anthony Garcia, attempted to carry the Stallions on his back, racking up 120 yards on just 11 carries. Boulder Creek was able to slice through the SRHS defense though, dropping 49 points.

Boulder Creek glided to victory in that game with senior quarterback, Bear Milacek, throwing just seven passes, connecting on five of them for a whopping 114 yards. That’s an average of just 23 yards per completion. Milacek also dominated the rush game, entering the endzone three times. The Boulder Creek defense must keep an eye out for SRHS’s playmaker, Zachary Sutton, who was held to just nine yards on one reception in their last meeting.

These two west side programs have meticulously been climbing up the ranks of Arizona high school football. Now they face off in the 2020 playoffs en route to what they both hope is a new foundation of success for these programs. Whoever claims victory in this matchup will take on the victor of #4 Highland vs #5 Casteel.

5A: #8 Verrado @ #1 Sunrise Mountain

A victory against defending 4A State Champion, Mesquite was only outdone the following week by a rivalry victory against defending 6A Champion, Liberty. It has been an impressive season for Sunrise Mountain but losses to Desert Edge and Ironwood likely removed SMHS from the Open Division conversation.

The Mustangs are looking for their first State Title since their inaugural season in 1998. Just two weeks ago, SMHS took down Verrado, scoring 28 unanswered points in the final three quarters for a 42-14 victory. To open up the postseason, Sunrise Mountain must beat Verrado again. The Mustangs marched downfield consistently thanks to production from senior, Tommy Arnold, who totaled two touchdowns on 27 carries and another TD with a reception.

Verrado defeated Ironwood earlier this year but couldn’t keep up with the Mustangs’ offense. The Vipers will need their stars such as senior standout running back, Logan Gingg, and senior linebacker, Austin Bilski, to step up to earn a monumental upset against the Mustangs. The winner will take on the victor of #4 Cactus Shadows vs #5 Campo Verde.

4A: #5 Coconino @ #4 Cactus

For the second time in program history, the Coconino Panthers went undefeated in regular-season play. While most of their games have been against Northern Arizona opponents, they have meaningful victories against Marcos de Niza and Estrella Foothills. Now they travel to Glendale to battle Cactus.

The Cobras are 8-1 all-time against Coconino, including victories in their two playoff meetings. The key to stopping Coconino is first stopping senior running back, Zach Bennett, who has carried 193 times in 2020 for over 1,000 rush yards and 15 TDs. Coconino averages over 300 rush yards per game with Bennett accounting for 145 of those yards.

Seniors, Riley Davies and Ethan Price will be expected to step up in this game on the front line, racking up a combined nine TFL and five sacks in 2020. A major part of the Cobras’ backfield pressure has been junior standout, Justin Holmes. Holmes leads Cactus in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks, causing constant chaos in the backfield. Last year, Cactus was a two-point conversion away from making their first state title game since 2011. Now, they seek revenge on the 4A Conference, vying for their first state title since 2009. The winner of this game will face off with either #1 Casa Grande or #8 Peoria next week.

Open Division: #8 Desert Edge @ #1 Chandler

In their third undefeated regular season in program history, Desert Edge was certainly given the short stick in the Open Division. Marque wins against Sunrise Mountain, Ironwood, Cactus, and Sandra Day O’Connor proved that DEHS was a force to be reckoned with this year. While many believe the Scorpions deserved better than the eighth seed in the Open Division, the rankings in the Open Eight are meaningless. The road to the title runs through Chandler and Hamilton, so you might as well take a shot at them first.

Stopping UCF quarterback commit, Mikey Keene, and future UArizona Wildcat receiver, Kyion Grayes, is hard enough. Add in the versatility of Boise State commit running back, Eli Sanders, and Chandler has proven themselves to be the fifth-best team in the nation according to MaxPreps. While Washington State commit and junior quarterback for DEHS, Adryan Lara will be interesting to watch against Chandler, all eyes will be on the Scorpion’s defense.

Seniors, Steven Ortiz Jr. and Chaz Clemons will lead the secondary as Maximus Garcia, RJ Roberts, and Jacorie Stokes, look to attack the backfield. Desert Edge will certainly put up a fight against one of the top teams in the nation but do they have enough to push the Wolves to the brink? It will be 1,177 days since Chandler last lost to an in-state opponent. The winner will play either #4 Centennial or #5 Liberty.

6A: #6 Basha @ #3 Sandra Day O’Connor

Donavin Fontaine has been electric for Sandra Day O’Connor this year. The Eagles had a rollercoaster of a season in every form. Their schedule has been difficult with tight losses to Desert Edge and Boulder Creek and victories against Shadow Ridge and Mountain Ridge. The only game that was out of reach was against a stout Highland team.

Fontaine has been an offensive heartbeat, averaging nearly 150 yards per game on offense while defensive forces such as Gabriel Monaco, Jaden Jacobi, and Brandon Craddock have led a defense that totaled 18 sacks, nine interceptions and six fumble recoveries in just eight games. Their opponent, Basha, is riding a six-game win streak and has delivered every week offensively. The SDO defense must stay on their toes. If they can slow down the Basha offense, they can slide into the semifinals for the first time in program history. The winner will battle against either #2 Queen Creek or #7 Chaparral.

5A: #6 Ironwood @ #3 Desert Mountain

Another group of Eagles, Ironwood, and senior quarterback, Will Haskell, are looking to end their season strong. The San Diego State commit has been nothing short of phenomenal in 2020, throwing for over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns in just seven games.

Haskell looks to lead his team on the road against Desert Mountain, a 4-2 team who lost to both Sunnyslope and Salpointe Catholic. The DMHS defense has seen six different players pick up an INT and eight players have earned a sack, combining for 17 sacks in 2020. Don’t be surprised if Ironwood can pull off the upset with Haskell gunslinging his way to the endzone with Elijah Sanders and Bubba Mannino-Faison. Ironwood is eyeing their first playoff win since 2005. The winner plays #2 Sunnyslope or #7 Notre Dame Prep.

5A: #7 Notre Dame Prep @ #2 Sunnyslope

After falling short of a spot in the Open Division Playoffs, Sunnyslope now becomes the hunted, earning the second overall seed in the 5A Tournament. The Vikings earned an impressive victory against Desert Mountain in Week 4 behind senior, David Sing, and his 13 tackles and an interception.

SHS ended the season with a tough loss to 6A’s top-seeded Boulder Creek Jaguars, a formidable team. Sunnyslope faces arguably the toughest low seed in the state, Notre Dame Prep. NDP went to the 5A State Championship in 2017 and 2018 and the state semis in 2019, falling short all three seasons. This year has brought a 4-2 season with losses to Mountain Ridge and Campo Verde but no meaningful victories. Sunnyslope must keep their head on a swivel, NDP is hungry for a top-notch win and Sunnyslope would be a great team to beat to begin a championship run. The victor makes a date with the winner of #6 Ironwood vs #3 Desert Mountain.

4A: #8 Peoria @ #1 Casa Grande

The Panthers are coming off the equivalent of a bye week after Apache Junction forfeited from their play-in game. Peoria will battle against the #1 seed, Casa Grande, who’s only loss this season was in their season opener against Open 8 team, Salpointe Catholic. PHS must slow down Casa Grande quarterback, Angel Flores, who has racked up nearly 1,900 total yards and accounts for 25 total touchdowns.

Keep an eye out for junior, Jake Price, on defense for Peoria. Price leads the team with five sacks alongside five tackles for loss, and an energizer for the Panthers on defense. Senior, Brendan Heard, is another defensive threat, leading the team in fumble causes and attacks the backfield with five sacks. This will be an uphill battle for Peoria but a winnable game nonetheless. The game-winner moves on to face either #4 Cactus or #5 Coconino

Be sure to join in on the conversation on Twitter using #FridayNight360AZ and follow @Sports360AZ to keep up with the action from across the state on Friday night!

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.