Best in the West 2023: Sept. 1 Preview

Arizona Sports News online

One game down, nine to go.

Best in the West digs into some of the big matches happening on the west side this weekend now that everyone across the state has kicked off the 2023 season!


Game of the Week: Liberty @ Sandra Day O’Connor

The Liberty Lions left no doubt that they’re still an Open Division Championship favorite after a 56-20 rout of Hamilton, including a 42-point second quarter. Now the Lions hit the road to face a familiar foe that will be hungry to hand LHS a loss. In two games against Liberty last year, Sandra Day O’Connor was outscored in the first half by a combined 71-6 which resulted in a 53-0 loss in the regular season and a 56-26 loss in the Open Division Playoffs. Now, the two former region rivals face off early in the season.

Nevada transfer, Jon Wilson, made his Liberty debut in the valley known by rushing for 209 yards and three TDs. The senior running back was explosive and physical, and without a doubt will be a name to watch throughout the season. While Wilson dominated the run game, defending Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, Navi Bruzon again showcased his talents with a 221-yard and three-TD passing clinic with senior Braylon Gardner catching 111 yards and two touchdowns from Bruzon.

But the big story was Liberty’s suffocating defense. Senior linebacker, Keaton Stam, picked up right where he left off last year with his eight tackles but a pair of newcomers to the starting lineup really lit up the Hamilton offense. Senior, Zane Tallman matched Stam’s team-leading eight tackles while sophomore, Hudson Dunn picked up six tackles and a sack. O’Connor’s offensive line must give their backfield time to be successful on Friday.

According to azcentral, the Eagles had three backs rush for over 100 yards and only made five pass attempts in a 26-6 win over Chaparral in their season opener. Nathan Bayus led the offense with 178 rush yards, Kayden Armstrong earned 142 yards, and Bentley Corbin totaled 112 yards. At the time of this article, statistics for SDO’s win against Chaparral had not been uploaded to MaxPreps.

Liberty is 4-0 against O’Connor all-time and has scored at least 24 points on every occasion.


A Glendale Rivalry

The 26th edition of Sunnyslope vs. Apollo takes place this Friday night. Apollo holds a competitive all-time record at 14-11. The past two seasons have been barn burners with both games decided by just one score.

Sunnyslope fell to Cactus 41-32 in week one and now travel to Apollo this week who downed Sunnyside 28-3. Oregon commit, Luke Moga, still put on a showcase for Sunnyslope with a four-touchdown performance and 255 passing yards. Junior receiver, Mack Kump, napped two of those TD passes, allowing both Kump and senior, Dillon Dwiggins, to both reach 100 reception yards.

UArizona fans will want to keep an eye on this game with three commits hitting the gridiron for the Apollo Hawks. Apollo only made six pass attempts for 36 yards while they allowed senior running back, Adam Mohammed, to showcase his speed and athleticism. Mohammed totaled 194 yards and three touchdowns, plus two sacks on defense in his season opener. Senior defensive tackle, Micahel Watkins, joined in on a sack in week one alongside this three tackles and one TFL. Offensive and defensive tackle, Matthew Lado, also claimed a tackle on defense.

The Sunnyslope defense will have a lot to handle with an explosive Apollo run game. Also, watch out for the Vikings’ senior safety, Chris Castillo, who led the team with 12 tackles and a sack. The history between these rivals dates back to Apollo’s debut as a JV program in 1970 and first met in 1972 where Apollo won 21-14.


A Rematch of Runner-Ups

The defending 5A State Runner-Up Cactus Cobras took care of business on opening night against the Sunnyslope Vikings that featured 31 first-half points for CHS. The Cobras welcome the 4A Conference State Runner-Ups, Snowflake Lobos, after an exhilarating inaugural matchup last season that resulted in a 7-0 Cobra victory up north.

Snowflake fell to Bradshaw Mountain in their season opener 24-14. Nonetheless, the Lobos showed off senior quarterback Brennan Bryant and his arm, passing for 196 yards and a touchdown but two interceptions. The Cobra’s defensive studs like junior cornerback, Nikko Boncore-Montoya, and senior linebacker, Kadin Huisinga, will look to establish a plan to force mistakes from the Snowflake offense and maybe allow Boncore-Montoya to add to his 36-yard interception from last week.

Boncore-Montoya also put on a superstar offensive performance as well catching 12 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown plus a rushing TD. Sophomore Antonio Casias and senior Braiden Lagafuaina combined for 231 pass yards at QB while also rushing for more than 70 yards each. Beyond that, another sophomore, Robert Cordova III made his name known after rushing for a pair of TDs from his 79 yards.

These two teams overcame all odds one year ago after being moved up a conference and becoming two of the smallest programs in their conferences. Both teams hurdled various obstacles en route to coming up short in the conference state championship games.


More Games of Note:

Buckeye Union @ Youngker

A pair of Buckeye Union District rivals enter their second week of play at 1-0, but only one school in the district can remain undefeated after Friday night.

The Youngker Roughriders squeaked by fellow BUHSD team, Estrella Foothills, last week in a 23-20 win. Senior quarterback, Jacob Lira, threw for 213 yards and three touchdowns while junior running back, Jantzen Ginger, tacked on another 114 rush yards. Junior cornerback, Jalen Walker, had a standout game with three tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

Meanwhile, the Buckeye Union Hawks took a trip to Hawaii and took care of business against the Waimea Menehunes, the 16th-ranked team in Hawaii according to MaxPreps. Senior quarterback, Zachary Bennett threw two touchdowns to fellow senior, Darius Haskin who caught 151 of Bennett’s 196 passing yards. Senior running back, Shamar Parker converted just 65 rush yards into two TDs. Seniors, Brennan Randall and Chronicles Jones, both racked up ten tackles each while fellow senior, Ted Scow, picked off two interceptions.

Both teams are senior-heavy and found momentum in week one with all eyes on making a run in the 4A Conference State Tournament. Buckeye Union is a perfect 13-0 in this rivalry series.


Desert Mountain @ Sunrise Mountain

The Sunrise Mountain Mustangs took a trip to Palos Verdes Estates, CA to kick off their season against the 31st-ranked team in California according to MaxPreps, Palos Verdes. PVHS forced five turnovers against Surnise Mountain’s offense. While the SMHS lost 50-8, they did get to see senior receiver, Doug Hall, catch four passes for 88 yards and the Mustang’s lone touchdown.

Sunrise Mountain now returns to the land of 110-degree heat for their home opener against one of the best teams in the 5A Conference, Desert Mountain. The DMHS Wolves took care of business last week at Verrado with a 47-0 victory and will force Sunrise Mountain to try to stop senior QB, Brady McDonough, who completed 20 of 25 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns last week.

Keep an eye on junior safety, Hayden Tewers who led Sunrise Mountain with 14 total tackles last week alongside a forced fumble. Sophomore DE/MLB, Logan Guilford, also impressed with 11 total tackles and a tackle for loss. Look for them to lead the charge against a high-octane Desert Mountain defense. These two teams have only faced off once before when Desert Mountain held off Sunrise Mountain in the 2021 5A Conference quarterfinals with a 17-8 victory.


Be sure to head out and support your local teams this Friday night! Also, keep watch at Sports360AZ for all of our high school football content including Bleacher Talk, Zone Read, AZ Audibles, Recruiting Roundup, and more.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #FridayNight360AZ and follow @Sports360AZ to keep up with the action from across the state on Friday nights!