SUNRISE MOUNTAIN (4-1) at PEORIA (2-3)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 11200 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria.
The Mustangs are Peoria’s main obstacle to another season-ending winning streak. Meanwhile, Sunrise Mountain could use a big win over a traditional power to remove the pain of last week’s 64-29 shellacking by rival Liberty.
“If we can do that and beat those last five teams, we’ll be peaking at the right time,” Peoria coach Doug Clapp said.
To do that, Clapp said, the Panthers must play more consistently and cut down on some mistakes. The running game is making strides, as junior Ira Rojas piled up 180 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-6 win over Glendale.
This week, both teams are focusing on defense. Sunrise Mountain has given up 104 points in two weeks after keeping its first three opponents under wraps. Peoria knows to win, it must temper the Mustangs’ explosive attack.
Senior quarterback Max Shepherd doubles as the Mustangs’ leading rusher with 529 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s thrown for 732 yards and has speedy playmakers to work with in junior Elroy Masters and sophomore Elijah Castro.
“They put up a lot of points, so we have to contain them,” Clapp said.
#5 (DIII) CACTUS (3-1) at #10 PHOENIX THUNDERBIRD (3-2)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 1750 W. Thunderbird Road, Phoenix.
Both teams have been spanked by Saguaro and are trying to regroup for a playoff push.
Much like last regular season, Thunderbird has been up and down. Of course, the Chiefs made a miracle run to the 2010 title in 4A-II as a No. 13 seed. And many of those players are back.
Foremost among them is arguably the state’s top 1-2 punch at running back. Junior Kani Benoit (526 yards, seven touchdowns) has emerged and senior Connor Hustead (357 yards, six touchdowns) is back to full strength after missing the Saguaro game.
”We’ll look at it. They’re all we’ve got. There’s no waiver, no trades,” Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier said. “We’ll lick our wounds and get better, hopefully, and play another defending state champ.”
This week, the defense will need to see the field less. As Saguaro built a 42-14 halftime lead, Cactus ran only 15 offensive plays and could not gain a first down.
The Cobra defense is picking up the pieces after Saguaro emphatically ended its shutout streak.
IRONWOOD (4-1) at WILLOW CANYON (2-3)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 17901 W. Lundberg St., Surprise
These new Division II Section I foes plan to inflict a pounding on each other, as both squads embrace old-school ground games and rely on smaller, speedier defenders.
Ironwood’s veer attack racked up 311 yards on 52 carries in a 34-21 win against Kellis despite the absence of its conductor. With senior quarterback Kyle Zoellner out due to concussion symptoms, senior Matt Paparella took the reins.
Paparella passed only five times, but was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 159 yards and two touchdowns. Junior backs Michal Alexander and Frank Ngoga added 69 and 66 yards respectively.
Zoellner’s status for this week is unknown.
Willow Canyon prefers a power I approach but the goals are the same — wear down the defense and control the ball. Friday’s 41-7 loss to Centennial was the Wildcats’ second to an undefeated team.
Though they tried to put the ball up more against a fast Centennial defense, Willow Canyon prefers a grind. Junior backup tailback J.D. Espree had the most success against the Coyotes with 57 yards. But the main man is junior Antony Thompson, who has 603 yards and nine touchdowns on 105 carries this season.
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COPPER CANYON (1-4) at #2 (DIII) LIBERTY (5-0)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 9621 W. Speckled Gecko Drive, Peoria.
Liberty has one more obstacle in its stretch of 2 2/3 games in eight days.
The Lions steamrolled neighborhood foe Sunrise Mountain 62-24 Friday, then outdueled Phoenix Paradise Valley 41-35 Monday, a resumption of a game that was delayed by lightning Sept. 9 with the teams tied and five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
"As a coaching staff we said we've got to get them rested, we've got to get them mentally prepared," Liberty coach Dan Filleman said. "Saturday, instead of doing film from Sunrise — it was hard for them, the didn't really get to enjoy the Sunrise win too much — they had to watch film and do our game plan and a walkthrough again (Monday)."
Liberty's offense is on a team and that figures to continue Friday. In the course of three days against Sunrise Mountain and Paradise Valley, junior quarterback Tyler Rogers completed 27 of 35 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns.
Copper Canyon can challenge the Lions defense. The Aztecs put up 40 points on Sunrise Mountain and are led by senior tailback Michael Grubbs.
"The last week has been stressful for the coaches because we've tried to juggle three games. We've got our (Copper Canyon) game plan ready to go and we'll try not to miss a beat," Filleman said. "My staff has done an outstanding job and it's not done yet. We'll be happy when it's all over."
VERRADO (1-4) at SHADOW RIDGE (2-3)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 10909 N. Perryville Road, Surprise.
The Stallions have a good shot to post their first two-game winning streak against AIA competition.
Shadow Ridge beat Wickenburg 27-14 last week, splitting its scoring between offense and defense. Junior cornerback Josh Kindred returned a fumble 40 yards for a score, while sophomore Gabe Jordon ran back an interception 32 yards for another touchdown.
Last week, Verrado lost 41-38 to Youngker, Shadow Ridge's first victim. Senior quarterback Steven Ruiz paces the Vipers with 1,074 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
#8 (DI) BOULDER CREEK (4-1) at MOUNTAIN RIDGE (1-4)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 22800 N. 67th Ave., Glendale.
The Mountain Lions enter with new-found momentum after winning 41-14 at Valley Vista. Junior quarterback Pono Ayers passed for four touchdowns in the victory.
But this week, Mountain Ridge faces its third ranked Division I team this season.The Jaguars sport a balanced offense led by senior quarterback Trevor Bonfasi.
VALLEY VISTA (4-1) at ALHAMBRA (3-2)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 3839 W Camelback Road, Phoenix.
Valley Vista regroups and heads into Phoenix. Despite solid records, both teams enter with something to prove.
Alhambra beat district foes Central and Maryvale, as well as Bullhead City Mohave, but gave up whopping point totals in losses to Avondale Westview (71) and Phoenix North (54). Senior tailback Keith Newsome is the Lions' main threat, rushing for 726 yards and seven touchdowns.
#6 (DII) DEER VALLEY(5-0) at BRADSHAW MOUNTAIN (4-1)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 6000 E Long Look Drive, Prescott Valley.
The Skyhawks are heading up the mountain, and must be careful to avoid a trap.
Deer Valley is coming of a final-minute touchdown for a wild 53-46 homecoming win against Millennium, and host's Centennial next week. But Bradshaw Mountain is too good to overlook.
The Bears were a playoff team in the last two years of 4A. Bradshaw Mountain boasts a typically punishing ground game, plus a game-changing player in senior quarterback Tyler Audsley, who missed their loss to Prescott.
On the other hand, the Bears haven't seen an offense like Deer Valley's. Senior running back Trae Armstong and senior tailback Auston Hillman led the charge in the Skyhawks' 672-yard display against Millennium.
Hillman has passed for 1163 yards and eight touchdowns this year, while rushing for 374 and four scores. Armstrong already has 870 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. And these stats are in slightly more than four games, as the game with Goldwater ended early in the second quarter.
DYSART (2-3) at WICKENBURG (0-5)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 1090 South Vulture Mine Road, Wickenburg.
Dysart can feast once more on the soft middle of its schedule before it receives a challenge from Peoria next week.
The good news for the Demons is, they've been dominant against teams they're supposed to beat. Last week, Dysart traveled to Flagstaff and shut down Coconino 34-3.
Dysart rushed for 301 yards, led by Cory Trufant's 157. But the Demon defense was more debilitating, with nine sacks in two forced fumbles. Junior nose tackle Fa'asauga Tinoisamoa dominated, recording 15 tackles and four sacks, and recovering both of the fumbles.
PHOENIX CHRISTIAN (4-1) at #1 (DV) NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (5-0)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 16401 N. 43rd Ave., Phoenix.
The Crusaders face some competition this week from the vastly-improved Cougars.
A pair of top tailbacks highlight this one. Phoenix Christian senior Austin Cundiff has 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
Meanwhile, Casey Jahn nears the revised state rushing record. He's at 922 yards this year despite receiving only 18 carries in blowout wins the past two weeks.
Jahn is 288 yards shy of the state rushing record for all classes, which changed earlier this year when complete game totals for Tomstone's Dwayne Thomas were found. Thomas finished with 6,506 yards.
BEAVER DAM (0-5) at #3 (DVI) JOY CHRISTIAN (5-0)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Friday at 21500 N. 75th Ave., Glendale.
Last week, Joy Christian vaulted from nice story to legitimate contender in the small schools division.
The Eagles visited undefeated Bagdad and led 56-0 after three quarters, cruising to a 62-16 win. Sophomore quarterback Nick Henderson continues his mastery of the offense, throwing for 236 yards and four touchdowns.
He likely won't be in for that long against the winless Diamondbacks from tiny Littlefield in the northwest corner of the state.