Best in the West: Sept. 9, 2022 Spotlight

After a week of rivalry games to open the season for many west side teams, the action continues this weekend. For many teams, this is the final week to work out any kinks if squads didn’t finish smoothing out the rough edges last Friday night. Big matchups make their way to the West Valley, so let’s dig into some of the games happening on the west side, including a California school, a top player in the nation, and a highly anticipated matchup all making their way to town.


Game of the Week: Pinnacle @ Liberty

An emotional and meaningful night for the Liberty Lions concluded with their first shutout victory against rival, Sunrise Mountain. The Lions honored 2019 Liberty graduate, Zach Hunzinger, who battled cancer four different times and fought ’50 strong.’ Zach passed away this summer. Hunzinger wore number 50 and the Lions put his number on the scoreboard in the biggest win for either team in the rivalry’s history. While their first game of the year was arguably their biggest for many different reasons, the competition certainly gets stiffer from here on out.

Before facing a three-game gauntlet road trip against Valor Christian (CO), Saguaro, and Basha, Liberty’s final home game until Oct. 14 is against a reemerging Pinnacle Pioneers team. Pinnacle dominated El Camino in Oceanside, CA to open the season while spotlighting sophomore QB, Wyatt Horton, who racked up 3 passing touchdowns and two more rushing TDs. And everyone knows the 6′ 6″ senior, Duce Robinson, the top-ranked senior tight end in the nation by 247Sports, is a difficult giant to contain.


The defense shined and never let the Mustangs find a rhythm but they will need to up the ante to contain a high-octane Pioneers offense. Junior LB, Keaton Stam, picked up where his brother Jax left off last year and is on his way to building his own legacy. Stam led the team with ten tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Seniors, Rune Tepolt and Blake Thompson, are taking up their roles as leaders of the defense and Oregon commit, My’Keil Gardner, has a chance to shine against a powerful offense.

Junior QB, Navi Bruzon, threw for 133 yards and three touchdowns in a showcase of his speed and arm talent. Senior, Zach Wallace stole the show on offense, though, tallying 100 yards on just eight carries. The Liberty offense remains fast and dangerous and will start with a slew of tests this season.

Liberty is 3-2 all-time against Pinnacle. All but one of those games were decided by 11 points or less. A victory for either team will be their first case made to return to this year’s Open Division Playoffs.


One Year Later, #1 & #2 from 4A Battle it Out

Cactus’ entry into the 5A Conference might not have been a pleasant one but the Cobras leave their season opener with plenty learned. CHS racked up 105 penalty yards and was only able to score one touchdown in a 29-6 loss to Desert Mountain. This week’s home opener for Cactus features the teams that many thought were the best in the 4A Conference last year as the Cobras get finally square off against ALA – Queen Creek.

Senior running back, Damian Jiles, was a massive bright spot for the Cobras rushing for 110 yards on 11 carries. The lone touchdown scorer for Cactus was senior, Will Galvan, who also claimed an interception on defense. Cactus must clean up the offense after giving up two interceptions as well as a fumble recovered for a touchdown.

ALA-QC had a monumental second half against Verrado in their season opener to take a 47-27 win. The Cobras will need their defensive leaders to step up and hold off the ALA flood of offense while allowing their offense to find a rhythm without the pressure of playing from behind. Junior, Raymond Jones, led the Cobra defense in tackles and TFL against Desert Mountain. Also, look for Dom Solano, Kaden Huisinga, Ashton Wendelshafer, Matai Carter, and others to rise to the occasion.

There are no breaks on the Cactus football schedule with Mesquite up next before back-to-back road games against Snowflake and 6A powerhouse, Basha. 


Streaks and Momentum

Buckeye Union senior, Vili Tongotea, has racked up seven straight games with over 100 rushing yards dating back to Oct. 14 of last season. This Friday night, Tongotea and company hosts the team where he began his streak last year, Deer Valley, when he jetted for 311 yards and three touchdowns. On top of Tongotea’s 213-yard and four touchdown performance last week, junior, Darius Haskin, was another potential weapon with 74 reception yards and a touchdown in a 42-7 win over Youngker. The BUHS offense looks like it could be powerful and senior, Julian Ortiz, is helping lead the defense.

Deer Valley fell short in their rivalry match against Barry Goldwater to open the year, 49-7. After a seven-win season last year, Deer Valley is attempting to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the fi since the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Junior, Jacob Kreuziger, led the Skyhawks offensively and defensively, scoring the team’s lone TD, and led DVHS in tackles on Friday night. Fellow junior, Dillion English, also played a large role on both sides of the ball by passing for 103 yards while also accumulating five tackles on defense.

AZ Audibles: Big Games For Chandler, Hamilton

This is a big game in terms of early momentum for both teams. Buckeye Union will have their first road game of the year next week at Bradshaw Mountain while Deer Valley awaits their home opener next week in their third game of the season.


More Games of Note:

Apollo @ Sunnyslope

Adam Mohammed was a downright monster on Friday night and made headlines across the state. The junior running back for Apollo went wild in the season opener against Glendale with a whopping 307 rush yards on 29 carries for six rush touchdowns. And by the way, he also completed 14 of his 19 pass attempts for 155 yards and another touchdown in a fill-in role. The Hawks squeaked by with a 48-42 victory to open the season on a major high note.

Sunnyslope dominated their season opener against Greenway with a 51-7 victory behind junior quarterback, Luke Moga, and his four pass touchdowns on ten completions. The Viking defense totaled six interceptions including a Teague Perez pick six while Deven Broady snagged two INTs and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Millikan (CA) @ Sunrise Mountain *SAT*

A Saturday night game features the first out-of-state opponent for Sunrise Mountain. From Long Beach, CA, the Millikan Rams are 2-1 to open the California season and have lit up the scoreboard averaging 51 points per game behind junior quarterback, Myles Jackson. 

The biggest hurdle for the Mustangs to overcome has been solidifying the quarterback position. In their rivalry match to open the season against Liberty, Sunrise Mountain had nearly half a dozen players take snaps in a 50-0 shutout loss. They await Centennial senior transfer, Austin Glimpse, and Saguaro sophomore transfer, Vanden Dugger, to become eligible. Senior running back, Rex Underhill, and senior receiver and cornerback, De’Mykal Anderson, will be leaned on to be leaders of this team on and off the field.


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