Every week, Best in the West focuses on some of the big games and big teams that will be in the West Valley this Friday night. This Best in the West features a pair of 2020 state championship rematches, some teams on great opening runs, and one west side team heading out of state.
Game of the Week: Mesquite vs. Cactus
Mesquite vs. Cactus became an instant classic in 2019 and 2020. The duo went down to the final seconds in the 2019 4A Conference Semifinals and 2020 4A State Championship game with electric nail-biters. Mesquite would claim victory by just one point in both games en route to back-to-back state titles.
This year is very different. The two squared off last season where the Cobras were merciless in a 56-6 victory which was a just small chapter in their milestone season that put them in the Open Division Playoffs. After three years of immense success for both programs, the football teams are both guinea pigs in the AIA’s reclassification model by getting bumped from 4A to 5A in 2022.
The Cactus offense has stumbled in their first games against Desert Mountain and ALA – Queen Creek, only scoring a single touchdown in each game. Senior running back, Damian Jiles, has been a massive bright spot offensively for CHS. While he has yet to find the endzone, he has been the most productive player on the Cobra offense collecting 152 rush yards and 30 receiving yards.
#TeamAZV #azpreps365 The drum line plays @CHSCobraFB onto the field for the first home game of the @BrianBelles3 era pic.twitter.com/jxEALa3WfJ
— Richard Smith (@RsmithYWV) September 10, 2022
Sophomore, Gabriel Rodriguez, has been versatile on defense in his accumulation of eight tackles, two TFL, and two sacks. Senior swiss army knife, Will Galvan, has also shown off his talent outside of the quarterback position by leading the team with 20 tackles on top of his interception and 71 total yards of offense.
The AIA’s new reclassification model combines school enrollment numbers with a program’s past three years of success. Mesquite (1,455 students) and Cactus (1,194 students) are the two smallest public schools by enrollment numbers in the 5A football conference according to the AIA. Only ALA – Queen Creek (1,105) – which was also moved up to 5A this year – and Notre Dame Prep (864) have less total enrollment. All other schools in the 5A football conference have more than 1,600 students enrolled with Agua Fria (1,621), Barry Goldwater (1,634), Ironwood Ridge (1,697), and Verrado (1,725) being the closest to Cactus and Mesquite in enrollment. Both of these former 4A programs have plenty of work in front of them to meet the depth of other 5A powers.
This is a big game for Cactus to finally find themselves in the win collum in 2022. The Cobras have a brutal task on the way with back-to-back road games. They start against former 3A Conference power, Snowflake, and one of the Open Division favorites, Basha, before returning home for the 40th rivalry battle against Peoria.
A Surging Junior Class
The Sunnyslope Vikings take their undefeated record and welcome a fellow 2-0 team to the west side. The Higley Knights are coming off two seasons in the 6A Conference and have been placed back into 5A. Both teams are off to blistering starts and Sunnyslope is coming off a close victory against Apollo, 28-21.
Juniors have led the charge for the Vikings and continue to get better. Quarterback, Luke Moga, has totaled 453 passing yards and six touchdowns while fellow junior, Dillon Dwiggins, has been a staple of the receiving core with 229 reception yards. A junior leads the ground attack too as John Sing has racked up 189 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Highlights of @SlopeFootball 28-21 win over @AHawksfootball: pic.twitter.com/07ppQW9aci
— Jose E. Garcia (@AZPreps365Jose) September 10, 2022
The junior class has been tremendous on the defensive side as well. Gavin Mitchell leads the team with 17 total tackles while cornerback, Deven Broady, has picked up two interceptions as well as a fumble recovery. The SHS defense will be tasked with slowing down a fiery Higley attack that scored 50 and 49 points in their first pair of games with over 1,000 total yards.
This could be the most challenging game of the season for Sunnyslope against a team that played some of the best of the best in the 6A Conference. The Vikings are in search of their sixth straight postseason appearance and a victory against a surging Hilgey team would make a massive statement.
Early Eastside Tests
One of the best teams in the state makes a trip to Glendale as the Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions welcome Hamilton.
This will be the second Chandler District school that MRHS has invited to their home turf. The Mountain Lions fell to Casteel in their season opener 54-28. Mountain Ridge claimed their first victory of their season last week at Shadow Ridge 38-27 and now faces a Hamilton team that will be out for blood following a 45-0 loss in Las Vegas to Bishop Gorman.
Varsity Game 3
USA 🇺🇸 Red White & Blue
7pm this Friday vs Hamilton 🎟 https://t.co/QNuOuzKt4N @TheMRHS @RidgeStrength @mrhs_athletics pic.twitter.com/7FCZ6CNH0J
— RidgeFootball (@MtRidgeFootball) September 12, 2022
This will be an important test for the Mountain Lions against a potential Open Division squad. Mountain Ridge will face another top tier squad later in the year when they play Liberty. MRHS must find a way to slow down senior quarterback and future UCLA baseball player, Roch Cholowsky, and his slew of talented receivers like seniors Tre Spivey and Nick Switzer.
More Notable Games:
Sunrise Mountain @ Ironwood
A rematch of the 2020 5A Conference championship kicks off between a pair of Peoria Unified School District teams this Friday night.
The Mustangs played their first out-of-state team in program history last week against Millikan (CA) in an intense 33-32 overtime loss. While SMHS only attempted four total passes, seniors Demykal Anderson, Rex Underhill, and Micah Johnson, stepped up and took the reigns of the offense by dominating the ground game, accumulating 264 rush yards and all five touchdowns.
Ironwood has been shutout in their first two games of the season against Gilbert and Notre Dame Prep. Senior quarterback, Connor Monahan, has been able to average nearly 100 pass yards per game while sophomore, Julian Stubblefield, has led the team in receiving. Senior, Doran Wetzel has led the team in both tackles and tackles for loss so far.
Liberty @ Valor Christian (CO)
While Best in the West focuses specifically on games happening in the West Valley, it is impossible to ignore milestone events. Liberty takes their undefeated record to Colorado for their second out-of-state trip in program history.
The scoreboard was lit up early and often as @LibertyFBLions put the pressure on early in a 49-7 victory against Pinnacle.@navibruzon, Zach Wallace, @brunelle_grant, @PrinceZombo2 & others put on a scorching first half.
Watch the game on-demand at ▶️https://t.co/u4FjnRS9il pic.twitter.com/R28p5Kv3BU
— Devon Henry (@devonhenry77) September 13, 2022
The Lions have scored 99 points in their games against Sunrise Mountain and Pinnacle while only allowing one TD, coming in the second half against PHS. Senior receiver, Prince Zombo, is coming off of a record-breaking performance, according to Jason Stam, with his 232 receiving yards while junior QB, Navi Bruzon carries momentum from completing all of his 18 pass attempts against Pinnacle for 344 yards and four TDs.
Liberty wants to make a statement against the eight-time Colorado state champion, Valor Christian Eagles, who have averaged 331 yards per game in their first three matches of the season. This is the first game of a massive road trip gauntlet with Saguaro and Basha welcoming the Lions back home following a bye week.
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