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Weekly High School Pick 'Em

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Scorpions, Vipers clash for section title

(LEFT) ROSHAUN JOHNSON of Desert Edge looks for running room against Paradise Valley Sept. 3. Johnson and the Scorpions have a chance to win their seventh straight game today and win the Division III, Section V title. (RIGHT) ELIJAH JOHNSON of Verrado sprints up the field against Agua Fria Oct. 23. The Vipers will attempt to beat Desert Edge for the first time in school history, hosting the Scorpions at 7 p.m today.

by Casey Pritchard
sports editor

Verrado is trying to create a rivalry with district foe Desert Edge, but as said oftentimes in sports, it’s not a rivalry until both teams have won.

The undefeated Vipers (8-0), who have never beaten Desert Edge, will attempt to change that at 7 p.m. today when hosting the Scorpions. The Division III, Section V title is also on the line, as both teams are 4-0 in the section. Desert Edge (7-2) has won six straight games, all by 30 points or more.

“I don’t think our school has ever beaten Desert Edge in football, so that would be kind of a cool deal,” Verrado coach Derek Wahlstrom said. “Winning a section title has never been done in school history. It would mean a pretty high seed, maybe two home playoff games, so there’s a lot on the line.”

Verrado is ranked third in Division III, while Desert Edge sits fourth. The loser will undoubtedly drop in the power rankings, but the question is, how far?

“The section title is obviously very important, but for seeding purposes I think the winner of the game gets the three seed, and playoff wise, that guarantees you two home games,” Desert Edge coach Rich Wellbrock said. “The loser might not even be home first round. That’s very important, and obviously area bragging rights and all that stuff, too. It should be a great environment and I know our kids are ready to go.”

Desert Edge has shown to be more than ready over the past six weeks, dominating every opponent since a 23-14 loss to Division I’s Scottsdale Chaparral Sept. 11. The Scorpions’ average margin of victory over that span is 45 points.

“I think we found some of our problem areas early on in those first three, four games,” Wellbrock said. “We were able to find that out against some pretty quality opponents and it allowed us to work on some things that we hope, at the end of it all, we were able to get better at over those [last] five or six weeks.”

The large margins of victory have also allowed Wellbrock to get several different players into the game.

“A lot of reps, it’s allowed us to stay healthy - it also allowed us to see the maturity of the team,” Wellbrock said. “I thought last week [a 49-13 win against Buckeye] it was very methodical and business like in the first 12-to-16 minutes of the game. Defense getting three-and-outs, offense doing their job and putting the ball in the end zone, and it’s nice to see these kids mature as a football team.”

Desert Edge has used a ferocious ground attack to beat up on opponents. The Scorpions are averaging 373.1 yards per game rushing and have six players with more than 200 yards.

“It’s kind of the way it’s gone with our program right now; we’ve got a bevy of backs that can run the ball and a quarterback that is pretty successful at it as well,” Wellbrock said. “At the high school level, I can truly tell you this is the best rushing attack I’ve ever had, whether as an assistant or head coach.”

The offensive line has a lot to do with that. The group of Brock Corbin, Hunter Jones, Max Wilhite, Tyler Jones and Austin Young averages 6-feet-4-inches tall and 291 pounds.

“Those kids, it seems like right now it doesn’t matter who touches it, they’re opening holes for them,” Wellbrock said. “That group has done really well all year and been cohesive.”

The team’s leading rusher is quarterback Tehran Thomas, who missed three games early in the season with a foot injury. In just six games, he has 856 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 13.8 yards per attempt.

“He’s come back into his own the last couple weeks, too,” Wellbrock said. “I think he’s finally back at 100 percent, and obviously at the right time. He’s an exceptional runner.”

Wahlstrom knows that stopping the Desert Edge running game will be critical to Verrado’s success.

“They’re really big, they’re pretty strong,” Wahlstrom said. “That obviously presents some matchup issues, but we’re going to go into it with our guys prepared, they’re going to work their techniques and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Vipers’ success

Verrado had also been sticking it to opponents, winning its eight games by an average margin of 29.6 points. However, Agua Fria gave the Vipers a battle to the wire Oct. 23, with Verrado prevailing 28-25. Wahlstrom thinks the tight game was important for his team leading into today’s matchup.

“Playing in close games is very valuable,” Wahlstrom said. “I think we’re going to see a whole lot of close games going forward, so being in a game like that was very valuable.”

The Scorpions ruined Verrado’s perfect season last year, as the Vipers were 6-0 and Desert Edge was 5-1 when the teams met in early October. What was thought to be a tight contest turned into anything but that, as the Scorpions won 40-7 and outgained Verrado 533 yards to 10.

“I think last year our guys learned from it,” Wahlstrom said. “We bounced back and had some other games that were pretty tight, even traveling down to [Tucson] Canyon del Oro in the first round [of the state tournament], we benefitted from playing against Desert Edge. I think we’ll find out more if we learned our lesson from last year and last week when we show up [tonight].”

Much of Verrado’s success this year revolves around its passing game and defense. The defense has allowed just 13.5 points per game, while quarterback Lathon Lax has thrown for 1,763 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, the aerial attack will be missing a key cog this week, as wide receiver Xavier James has to sit out after being ejected from last week’s game for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Anytime you lose an athlete, regardless of who it is, I think that effects you,” Wahlstrom said. “Whether it’s a potential Division I athlete like Xavier, or a role player. Obviously, it’s going to impact us. The question is, are there going to be other young men that take advantage of the opportunity afforded them now, to catch those balls, to make those blocks, to be involved in the return game? Guys have opportunities to make plays that Xavier would have received, so we’ll see how that plays out.”

Although James cannot participate in today’s game, he was able to help at practice during the week by running scout team and encouraging teammates.

“When we’re conditioning he’s motivating them to give everything they have,” Wahlstrom said. “He’s being a good teammate right now and trying to help our team as much as he can.”

While Verrado’s passing game has been good all year, its run attack has picked it up the last two weeks. The Vipers rushed for 221 yards last week and 228 the week before, their two highest totals of the season.

“They like to throw the ball, they’re successful at that, and they’ve established a running attack,” Wellbrock said. “They run so many formation and do so many screens. They do a lot of things well and are a very tough opponent to game plan against.”

With a section title, two home playoff games and a potential first win against Desert Edge on the line today, Wahlstrom made sure to talk to his team about that, he said.

“I think it speaks volumes about where our program has come that the AIA [Arizona Interscholastic Association] scheduled the two of us to meet this week, because they foresaw this as potentially being for the section championship,” Wahlstrom said. “I think that shows that people have recognized that our program has evolved into what I think it is, which is a quality program that has a chance to compete for playoff and section titles, and once you get into the mix at the end of the year, you’re one of the 16 teams remaining, you see where it goes from there.”

Writer's Perspective

Casey Pritchard

It’s the final week of the regular season and there are some marquee matchups taking place.

One of the biggest ones is Estrella Foothills at Northwest Christian. The Crusaders and Wolves are both 8-1 and ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in Division IV. How things go tonight will map out Estrella’s playoff road.

“It’s going to determine if we have a home game or away game in the first round of the playoffs, so it’s very important this week,” Estrella coach Lamar Early said. “It’s a great way to end the season, going into the playoffs with a tough team that will get you playoff ready.”

The Crusaders have a very balanced offensive attack. They’ve thrown for 1,827 yards and rushed for 1,371. Early said the Wolves have to execute.

“They’re well coached and a good football team,” Early said. “Them being balanced, I’m just going to make sure we know our assignments.”

Tonopah Valley’s contest at Phoenix Christian (3-6) doesn’t look like it’s too difficult of a matchup on paper for the Phoenix, but coach Nick Gehrts said the Cougars are a very talented team that has gotten a lot better. A win would elevate Tonopah’s record to 9-1, but that might not even guarantee it a home playoff game in the first round. The Phoenix sit 11th in the rankings right now.

“The rankings are frustrating, but at the end of the day we can’t change the system,” Gehrts said. “We have played two winless teams this year, which isn’t helping our case, and I understand that. We’ve just got to focus on us.”

One of the winless teams Gehrts is talking about is Wellton Antelope, which the Phoenix beat 59-0 last week. Tonopah rushed for 468 yards in the win, but special teams was a focus because the team has struggled in that department, Gehrts said.

“I think we got better at it as the night went on,” Gerhts said. “We also put in some wrinkles on offense and defense that we were able to work on. Ultimately, I wanted our guys to show up and do what they were supposed to do and I think we did that.”

Quarterback Chris Davis did not play last week after suffering a knee injury Oct. 16. He is day to day, but if he can play tonight he will, Gehrts said.

“If not, Paul [Macsteves] will be ready. Paul is very capable of doing great things in our offense.”

Youngker ends the season with a difficult game, facing the Division’s No. 1 power-points team, Yuma Catholic. The Roughriders are coming off a 42-38 overtime win against Glendale last week. Coach Kelly Epley said the victory was extremely exciting.

“We walked into that game without three to five starters and the Roughriders of the past would have given up and just played the game - not this bunch of quality young men. They played to win and honestly, it was the best win I personally have had in the last five years - four years coaching junior college football.”

Three seniors, Isaac Garcia, Joe Santiago and Collin Gallegos, stood out in the game to Epley, he said. Santiago sacked Glendale to force them into a field goal at the beginning of overtime, and Garcia had the game-winning touchdown at the end of overtime. Gallegos was playing a new position.

“They will always remember their commitment and success for the rest of their lives,” Epley said. “I can’t do justice how proud I am of these young men. It’s why I coach. I came to the right place.”

The win over Glendale was Youngker’s third this season. The Roughriders had only won one game the last two years combined.

“All in all, I classify this year as a success,” Epley said. “We showed kids that if you commit, truly commit to a team effort, you can be successful. We have the honor to play another game and I know we will give them all we have. That is exciting to say.

“I am extremely excited about our future as a program and like I told our team last Friday night, ’You are the guys that turned this program around - remember this night.’”

Buckeye lost 49-13 to Desert Edge last week, its third defeat in four weeks. Despite the lopsided score, Moore was proud of the way his team competed.

“We were honored to compete against an exceptional team,” Moore said.

The Hawks (6-3) are on the outside of the playoffs entering the final week, sitting 20th in the Division III rankings. They host Phoenix Sierra Linda (4-5) tonight, a must win.

“The boys know we need a ton of help,” Moore said. “We also know that we are the reason for the pickle we are in. Therefore, all we can control is how we finish … I trust that our boys will finish with the heart and passion that they started with.”

To be successful against Sierra Linda, Buckeye will have to be disciplined in its assignments and execute the game plan, Moore said.

“We have been rock solid in giveaway-takeaway, except for the three losses - go figure,” Moore said. “It’s a pretty simple formula: win that battle, win the game.”


It’s Week 10, and teams are working to put the final touches on a season-long resume. A few have all but clinched a spot in the playoffs, while others need a few chips to fall in their favor.

In Westview and Millennium’s matchup, it’s winner take all. The winner will be crowned section champion, and in Millennium’s case, it will provide the last chance to crash the playoff picture.

The Tigers fell to Surprise Valley Vista last week, 21-20, snapping a four-game win streak.

Millennium coach Jason Randels took the blame for the loss.

“Last week, I made some coaching errors that led to the loss against a Valley Vista team that played hard like we knew they would,” Randels said. “I managed the game poorly and my kids were put in bad spots.”

The Tigers are going up against a tough Westview team, which is looking to get back on the winning side after falling to Queen Creek, 34-13.

“This week, we are prepared for the machine that Westview is on offense,” Randels said. “They only do a few things, but they do them really well out of a bunch of different looks. Our boys need to be ready to play tough-nosed football all night because Westview makes you pay if you take a play off.”

Randels said the offense needs to be clicking on all cylinders because of the limited opportunities it may get. Westview often wins the time of possession battle with its run game.

“We have to get points on the board with every opportunity because they can take a lot of time off the clock,” Randels said. “We’ve been great at moving the ball, but the drives need to end in touchdowns. That is the focus this week.”

The Tigers are averaging 431 yards per game, but only 23 points per game in section play.

Randels said the goal after the 0-4 start was to take care of business in section play. The Tigers are one game away from doing just that.

“Our boys believe and know what is at stake,” Randels said. “Westview has probably already punched their ticket to the playoffs. We have our opportunity this week.”

Westview coach Joe Parker said the Knights will have their work cut out for them with a tough opponent yet again this week.

“Millennium has a standing tradition of producing great athletes, and this year seems to be no different,” Parker said. “Their line is huge and they play with the intent to completely dominate their opponents. I was impressed with their line play and you can tell those guys are taking very well to some solid coaching.”

Parker said the defense will have to try and contain J. J. Gayles, the Tigers’ all-purpose running back, and keep an eye on tight end Raymond Pauwels. Gayles has rushed for 1,147 yards in nine games this season.

“They have offensive weapons in all the right places,” Parker said. “You have to respect Gayles’ running ability and you must know where their huge tight end is. Pauwles has proven himself to be a major threat. Those guys are just two of some very talented individuals we need to prepare for.”

Parker commended Millennium’s defensive linemen and linebackers’ strong play throughout the year.

“Our offense will face another talented bunch this week,” Parker said. “Their interior line moves very well and they don’t give up on plays. Their linebackers are athletic and have a nose for the ball. As a unit they’re sure tacklers and they make opponents earn points.”

Parker said the proximity of the schools makes it an even more exciting matchup.

“Whenever our two schools get together in athletic competition, there’s a certain excitement in the air,” Parker said. “This is what’s best about high school sports: neighborhood sporting rivals. We are looking forward to a night of hard-hitting football with a lot on the line for both programs. Couldn’t ask for a better scenario to cap the regular season.”

Agua Fria and La Joya are also slated for a neighborhood showdown. The Owls are coming off a 28-25 loss to undefeated Verrado. It was the Vipers’ closest game of the season.

Agua Fria coach Tony Cluff said his team played hard and well enough to win, but just came up short.

“I’m happy about the way the kids played, disappointed in the result,” Cluff said. “Verrado is good, but we felt that we had a great game plan and we were in it the whole way.”

The Owls will be looking to end the year with a win to finish .500.

“To end [the season] on a victory, the kids just need to continue what they started at Verrado,” Cluff said. “All three aspects of the game were good, and if we continue this, we should have a good showing versus La Joya.”

The Lobos took down Phoenix Sierra Linda to end a five-game skid last week. Senior Justin Jones paved the way to victory, rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching one pass for a 76-yard score.

Tolleson is sitting at 5-5, and thanks to an 11-game schedule has a chance to finish with a winning record for the third-straight season. The Wolverines beat Phoenix St. Mary’s 24-20, and will host Yuma Cibola in the season’s final contest.

“Cibola is a very good football team that will be a good challenge for us,” Tolleson coach Jason Wilke said. “We have much to play for. We have 18 seniors we want to send out the right way, and have a chance to finish with our third winning season in a row. It definitely kicks off our off-season program if we finish with a win. Cibola is a playoff team and we are hoping to play like a playoff team as well.”

Tolleson scheduled the game against Cibola to avoid having a bye-week just before the playoffs start. The Wolverines currently sit seven spots out of the playoff picture, and would need quite a bit of help tonight to secure that final spot.

Week 9 Highlights

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