Teams from the West Valley littered the upcoming football playoff brackets, announced Friday in a special presentation by the AIA on Saturday morning.
Sixteen teams from the West Valley View, Peoria and Glendale coverage areas heard their names called for the 2-6A brackets and the new eight-team Open Division tournament.
The lone area participant in the Open bracket is Centennial. The No. 2 Coyotes boast a 9-1 record. Their only loss was a 71-21 defeat against California’s Mater Dei, the defending high school football national champion. After that, Centennial went on an 8-0 run to end the season, allowing just a total of 28 points in eight games that included five consecutive shutouts in their region contests.
Senior quarterback Jonathan Morris leads the Coyote offense, throwing 16 touchdowns and just one interception through nine games. Junior Bryson Thomas led the team with 53 tackles, and senior Jaydin Young added 47 while also starting at running back.
The Coyotes, who have won the past two 5A state champions, will likely face a more difficult playoff bracket, including a first-round matchup against No. 7 Hamilton.
“Our guys like to challenge themselves. That’s why we play the teams like Mater Dei, or Long Beach Poly, and this will be a real challenge here,” coach Richard Taylor said.
“Normally if you’re seeded high, the first playoff game is kind of a warmup. But in this, you’re playing a tough team because everybody in that eight has a real chance of winning the whole thing.”
As the only team from the area in the Open Division, Taylor added that the team is looking to win a title for their part of the Valley.
“We feel that we’re not only representing for our school and our community, but we want to hold the banner high for all of the west side,” he said.
The lone 6A squad from Peoria, No. 7 Liberty is the only West Valley school to host a 6A playoff game. The Lions lost to Open Bracket-bound Chaparral 36-35 to end the season, but the group of over 40 seniors – the most in recent team history – are prepared to make a postseason run.
A run-heavy team, senior quarterback Jonah Guevara leads the Lions in rushing with over 600 yards, as well as over 1,200 through the air. Sophomore Jax Stam recorded a team-high in tackles with over 60, and was last year’s top freshman tackler in Arizona.
The Lions boast a 6-4 record and will host No. 10 La Joya Community in the first round.
La Joya Community:
The No. 10 Lobos boast an 8-2 record and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Having dealt with several season-ending injuries, including senior receiver Carlos Fernandez and junior linebacker Zach Blackwood, La Joya Community reeled off seven consecutive wins and ran the table in its region.
Senior quarterback, Miguel Valdovinos passed for over 2,500 yards and 40 touchdowns this season. Blackwood was the leading tackler with 50 on the season before going down with a broken foot.
Clinching its first region championship under coach Devin Dourisseau, La Joya will face No. 7 Liberty in the first round. The teams will exchange film, but the Lobos will take a few moments to bask in their success thus far.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of the way the guys fought all season, dealing with the adversity that we’ve faced. We’ve adapted and overcame all that, and it’s been tremendous,” Dourisseau said.
The Lions enter the playoffs at No. 14 with a 5-5 record, just a season removed from a disappointing 0-10 2018 season. The offense is led by senior quarterback Keegan Stancato, who has thrown for over 2,200 yards and 23 touchdowns, as well as nine rushes for scores. The defense is led by senior Linebacker Tommy Ellis, who has recorded over 120 tackles, among the most of any player in 6A.
Mountain Ridge will travel to Gilbert to take on No. 3 Perry in the first round of the 6A playoffs. Regardless of the score, assistant coach Steve Scott said the team is incredibly proud of the way it has come together in 2019.
“The turnaround is great for us, the community and the players. From what we went through the last couple of years to where we are now is tremendous. The staff that we have and the players have changed everything and this spot is something that demonstrates that,” Scott said.
No. 5 Millennium won another region championship in 2019, including five consecutive victories to end the regular season. The defensively-stout Tigers allowed a total of eight points in their final three contests/
That defense is led by senior Brandon Fondong, who recorded 135 tackles this season. Senior Jamarlo Campbell added another 115. Offensively, the Tigers are led by quarterback and coach’s son Jalan Early, who threw for over 20 touchdowns and led the team in carries for over 500 yards on the ground.
The Tigers boast an 8-2 record, and will host No. 12 Gilbert in the first round.
The No. 8 Sunrise Mountain Mustangs have shown the ability to compete with just about anybody in the conference, showcasing their talent with a 38-35 victory over Williams Field – the top-seeded team in the 5A bracket – early in the season.
The Mustangs are an offensively-stout squad, with senior quarterback Alex Gianoli leading the group with over 1,500 passing yards, and around 500 more on the ground with the most carries on the squad.
Boasting a 7-3 record, despite a season-ending 50-0 loss to Open-bound Centennial. The Mustangs will host No. 9 Buena in the first round.
Coach Damon Pieri’s No. 10 Sunnyslope Viking squad began its season just 1-2, with a pair of disappointing losses, but have battled back since then in a tough region to secure a playoff spot.
The Vikings are led by twin seniors quarterback Niko Haen and receiver David Haen, who have been one of the top passer-receiver duos in the state this season.
The Vikings boast a 6-4 record, and will visit No. 7 Cienega in the first round.
After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Ironwood Eagles enter the 5A postseason as the No. 14 seed, thanks in part to a mid-season run of four wins in five [;[.4games.
Junior quarterback Will Haskell has shown incredible ability to both run and pass the ball, with double-digit touchdowns in both categories, and has grown tremendously as a team leader on the field.
Ironwood boasts a 6-4 record, and will visit No. 3 Higley in the first round.
After starting 1-4, the No. 15 Verrado Vipers won four of their last five games to sneak into the postseason.
The Vipers are led by cousins junior running back Logan Gingg (1,289 rushing yards) and senior defensive lineman Conrad Gingg (nearly 100 tackles)
Verrado boasts a 5-5 record, and will visit No. 2 Notre Dame Prep in the first round.
Following a comeback 20-14 victory over rival Peoria, the No. 2 Cactus Cobras have a chance to play two home games in the 4A playoffs should they advance, before heading to a neutral site for the semifinals.
The Cobras are led by senior quarterback Conner Cordts and running back Anthony Flores offensively. Both are a threat to run for a long play on any carry, and have recorded over 10 rushing touchdowns each this season. Defensively, twins Nicc and Nate Quinones wreak havoc on opposing backfields. Nate has totaled over 90 tackles in 2019.
The Cobras boast an 8-2 record, and host No. 15 Tempe in the first round.
“To get the 2-seed here in my second year is something special. But we can’t celebrate too long, because we have to get to work preparing for Tempe now,” said coach Joseph Ortiz.
Desert Edge, despite a No. 4 seed, is one of the top contenders in the 4A conference. Their only losses have come to Salpointe, Saguaro and Millennium. Salpointe and Saguaro will both play in the Open Division, and Millennium is a highly-seeded 5A squad.
The Scorpions are led by sophomore quarterback Adryan Lara, as well as two stud receivers in senior Jihad Marks and junior Andrew Patterson, who both have recorded around 1,000 yards receiving.
Coach Jose Lucero’s Scorpions boast a 7-3 record, and host No. 13 Prescott in the first round.
On the other end of the Cactus victory was Peoria, who itself has a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs. The No. 7 Panthers started the season 4-0, and have not taken their foot off the gas pedal since.
The Panthers are led by senior Micho Cordero, who many players describe as the emotional captain of the group. He leads the team in carries with over 120, and is among the leaders in tackles as a linebacker as well.
Peoria boasts an 8-2 record, and will host No. 10 Greenway in the first round.
Having lost just one game, a 14-13 defeat to Buckeye, the No. 10 Greenway Demons are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, despite a lower seed than some expected.
With a young offense, coach Ed Cook said the team will rely on its stout defense to try and win games in this postseason.
“We’re playing really good defense this year, and we’re going to rely on that. We’re young on offense, but we’re working through that, so if we keep other teams from scoring a lot we have a chance,” Cook said.
Greenway boasts a 9-1 record, and will visit No. 7 Peoria in the first round.
As region champions, the No. 16 Glendale Cardinals were given an automatic bid to the playoffs, despite a perceived lack of strength in their schedule.
The Cardinals are led by senior running back Kevin Daniels, who has recorded a team-high in rushing and receiving yards (over 1,300 and 800 respectively) and is known to even throw the ball on occasion.
Not many will likely pick the lowest-seeded Cardinals to win, but coach Rob York believes his team has a chance against a squad they have history with. Glendale boasts an 8-2 record, and will visit No. 1 Tucson Sahuaro in the first round, who beat them by one point in 2018.
“It’s going to be a chance to redeem ourselves a little from last year, and we’re going to try to keep doing what we have the last ten weeks to get to this point,” York said.
A year removed from a surprising playoff run, the No. 14 Odyssey Institute Minotaurs are no longer taking teams by surprise, but still played well enough to earn a postseason bid.
Senior running back Chris Weaver is the emotional and offensive leader for the Minotaurs. He broke the 3A career rushing record this season, and will only distance himself from the record book even more in the playoffs on a run-heavy squad.
The Minotaurs boast a 7-3 record, and will travel to No. 3 Northwest Christian.
The No. 2 Trivium Prep Crimson Knights are the only undefeated 2A squad in the playoffs from the West Valley. The Knights completed their second consecutive regular season without a loss since joining the 2A conference last year.
Senior running back David Marquez has been a force for the Knights, accumulating over 20 touchdowns on the ground behind one of the best offensive lines in the state.
Trivium boasts a 9-0 record and hosts No. 15 Morenci Jr. / Sr. in the first round.
“Our goal is to get one step further than we were last year. So to do that, our goal was to recreate part one, which was to get the 2-seed again, and from here it’s week-to-week,” coach Michael Spencer said.
Playoff experience, Spencer hopes, will boost the team as well.
“Definitely being there before kind of takes the mystique out of the atmosphere, and we’re going to go into more of a business-like approach. It’s a different mindset than we had from never being there before to now having experience to look back on.”