They might play in the middle of nowhere, but the River Valley Dust Devils are making quite an impression on the football field in the Division IV state playoffs.
River Valley High School, located in Mohave Valley, is much closer to Las Vegas than Phoenix, but the No. 6 Dust Devils have taken Arizona's Div. IV football by storm after a string of dominant victories.
Their latest win, a 43-12 drubbing of No. 2 Seton Catholic at Maricopa High School on Monday night, put them in the state championship game for the first time in school history. Heck, they were in the state semifinals for the first time Monday, but the Dust Devils looked the part.
River Valley (12-1) de-throned the defending state-champion Sentinels behind a punishing running game. The Dust Devils came into the game averaging 314 yards per game on the ground and racked up 381 in Monday’s win over Seton Catholic (11-2).
The running attack is keyed by junior halfback Brandon Long, who leads all of Division IV in rushing with 2,204 yards. Long had a monster game Friday, carrying the ball a season-high 43 times for 270 yards and four touchdowns.
The River Valley offensive line was strong all night, allowing its backs to gain at least 5 yards on the majority of the team’s carries. Quarterback Derek Advocate added 69 yards rushing and a score on 15 carries.
The Dust Devils may not be a known commodity, but people are starting to take notice after they beat No. 3 Snowflake and No. 2 Seton Catholic in back-to-back weeks.
“Our problem in the West is our schedule,” River Valley coach Terry Staggs said. “Nobody knows anything about us, we don’t get to play any of the big boys, (but) we’re playing them now, and obviously this is a big night.”
The Dust Devils must take out No. 4 Lakeside Blue Ridge, a perennial power, to win its first state title. Blue Ridge defeated River Valley, 49-0, in the state quarterfinals last year, so the Dust Devils will have a chance at payback.
Things started poorly for Seton Catholic early in the first quarter when quarterback Zach Wade was picked off by River Valley free safety Brady Viles. The Dust Devils capitalized on a 14-yard touchdown run by Long.
Two more touchdowns by Long (48 and 35 yards) and a 1-yard plunge by Jessie Smith gave the Dust Devils a 30-6 lead at halftime.
The Sentinels were without starting quarterback Kyle Johnson, who was hospitalized with pneumonia earlier in the week and was too sick to play. Johnson, a senior, started all 12 previous games for Seton Catholic and completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,401 yards and 36 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Zach Wade, starting in place of Johnson, completed 12-of-21 passes for 114 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Sentinels turned the ball over five times against River Valley. Seton Catholic coach Rex Bowser said that didn’t give his team much of a chance.
“The turnovers were big all night,” he said. “In the first 12 games we played this year, we turned the ball over a total of seven times. (Monday), we turned the ball over five times in one game. You turn the ball over five times, and you have no chance to win.”
Bowser said playing without Johnson certainly hurt his team, but he said River Valley is a very good team and called the Dust Devils the most physical team the Sentinels played all season.
Staggs said River Valley has been building its football program for the last six years.
“It’s a building process, and our kids have finally gotten to the top, and we’ll see what happens Saturday,” he said.
River Valley 43, Seton Catholic 12
First downs: RV 17, Seton 9
Rushing: RV 68-381, Seton 15-86
Passing: (comp.-att.-yards-TD-INT): RV 1-4-27-0-1, Seton 12-21-114-1-3
Fumbles-lost: RV 0-0, Seton 2-2
Penalties-yards: RV 4-20, Seton 4-20
RV 7 23 0 13 – 43
Seton 0 6 6 0 – 12
RV: Long 14 run (Viles kick)
RV: Long 48 run (Viles kick)
RV: Long 35 run (Martel pass from Advocate)
RV: Smith 1 run (Advocate run)
Seton: Wolter 6 pass from Wade (pass failed)
Seton: Campanella 1 run (pass failed)
RV: Long 3 run (kick failed)
RV: Advocate 1 run (Viles kick)