#16 Kofa Kings (5-5) @ #1 Centennial Coyotes (10-0)
Centennial's constricting defense powered them through region play, surrendering just 17 points in five games against their regional foes. Junior cornerback Kyle Coffey has returned two interceptions for scores this season, while seven different players have recorded multiple sacks on the season. Senior running back John Hughes has ran for over 1,000-yards on the season and scored an amazing 25 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Dain McFarland's 12 touchdown passes have been distributed amongst six different athletes.
Junior running back Timmy Lee is the catalyst of the King offense, accounting for over 50% of Kofa's total offense. Quarterback Kane Nelson has accounted for 11 touchdowns, 7 through the air and four on the ground. Junior linebacker Trevor Montgomery is leads the team in both tackles (64) and sacks (5).
Not only will Kofa have the disadvantage of playing three hours away from home, they are coming up against a bigger, faster, stronger, and deeper foe. Beyond getting the victory, Centennial will look to clean up their play after two weeks of sloppy play against Desert West Region doormats Ironwood and Sunrise Mountain. If the Coyotes accomplish that secondary goal, this contest could evolve into a blowout very quickly. Centennial 42, Kofa 0.
#9 Pinnacle Pioneers (5-5) @ #8 Desert Ridge Jaguars (7-3)
At their best Pinnacle has the ability to play with the best teams in 5A-2 (see wins over highly-regarded Ironwood Ridge and Marcos de Niza squads), and at their worst they appear to be a second-tier team in their own region (see three straight losses to close out October). Senior Taylor Stib rushed for over 1,000 yards during the regular season while scoring 16 touchdowns, and is one of four players with at least ten receptions on the year. Junior linebacker Andrew Hurley has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks all season, registering an eye-popping 18.5 sacks.
Before closing out the season with a loss to Marcos de Niza the Jaguars had rolled off six consecutive wins, with an average margin of victory of over 31 points. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Pantastico set a state record for single-game passing yards earlier in the season, and his top two targets (Chris Heldore and Chris Jamison) are as dynamic as any athlete in the state.
Revenge could be a motivating factor for both squads-Pinnacle would be avenging a 54-24 lashing administered by the Jaguars on October 24, while Desert Ridge would set up their fourth matchup in two years against top-ranked Centennial (they are 0-3 in those previous games). The Jaguars could be caught looking ahead, but there's too much talent to anticipate Pinnacle making a complete turnaround from their earlier matchup. Desert Ridge 35, Pinnacle 20.
#12 South Mountain Jaguars (8-2) @ #5 Sunnyside Blue Devils (8-2)
In a battle between south Phoenix and south Tucson, the Jaguars hope to have a repeat of last season's run to the state semifinals. Offensively South Mountain has been predictable but effective, depending on the senior running back trio of Aaron Hardwick, Anthony Sanders, and Tim Bell to churn out yardage. The few times South has gone through the air Maurice Trotter has proven himself to be a playmaker, averaging over 20 yards per catch. Defensive back Joseph LaMar leads the team in interceptions.
Sunnyside has built a reputation on winning big when it's least expected, and this is the least heralded Blue Devil squad since 2005. Quarterback Jesus Vega has been steady, throwing for over 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns. Manny Aguilar has scored 14 times on the ground, and also has a receiving touchdown to his credit.
Due to their unexpected playoff run last season it would be easy to say South could get an upset here. With that said the Jaguars have a new coach in place since a year ago, and in the past three seasons it Sunnyside has been eliminated by the Centennial juggernaut come playoff time. South Mountain's speed will keep the score close. Sunnyside 27, South Mountain 21.
#13 North Mustangs (6-4) @ #4 Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (8-2)
Linebacker Jake Fischer and the Nighthawks' splendid defense have been the face of this team since the beginning of the season; after surrendering just ten points per contest during the regular season it's not hard to see how that came to be. Fischer (71 tackles, five sacks), a four-year varsity starter bound for the U of A, garners most of the attention, but fellow ‘backer Ray Cottman is also a difference maker. Senior receiver Scott Campbell has hauled in 39 passes this season, while junior back Adrian Bahler has found the end zone 15 times.
After a two-year absence veteran coach Gary Cook has the Mustangs back in the playoffs. Kicker Jorge Virelas has a big leg (his four field goals were critical in the Mustangs' win over St. Mary's earlier this year), while wide receiver Aden Mendoza is a fearless route runner. Treven Masse is a powerfully-built running back.
Before being upset by Sunnyside for the Southern Region championship many considered Ironwood Ridge to be the most viable threat in the state to Centennial. While some of that esteem has been deflated, the fact remains that they are a strong, talented football team. The Mustangs will hope to avoid a similar fate to their 77-7 drubbing by Centennial earlier this season. Ironwood Ridge 49, North 10.
#11 Skyline Coyotes (7-3) @ #6 La Joya Lobos (8-2)
This is a matchup between two teams who despite their records are still looking to prove themselves against a winning opponent, as well as two teams who will run the ball at will. The Lobos' run game starts with quarterback Jeremiah Cornist, who accounted for 1,300 yards over the ground this season. Running backs L.A. Massenburg and D.J. Hubbard combined for over 1,000 rushing yards as well for the Lobos. Seniors Damari Lewis and Thomas Brown both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for Skyline.
Defensively Stephaun Grant and Terrance Stewart have notched five sacks apiece for La Joya, while Brown is also a defensive leader for the Coyotes. Ellis Chigundeni and Matt Heyer have combined for nine sacks at Skyline.
Both programs are looking to notch their first playoff win in school history-last season the Coyotes made their playoff debut only to fall to Westview, while La Joya's postseason premier ended in a rout to Centennial. Despite their low seed Skyline will score the upset behind a solid defense. Skyline 21, La Joya 12.
#14 Marana Mountain View Mountain Lions (4-6) @ #3 Westview Knights (9-1)
Priority #1 for Westview will be to contain Mountain Lion junior back Myles Williams, who registered four consecutive 100-yard rushing games earlier this season. Quarterback C.J. Evenson threw for 1,024 yards and scored five rushing touchdowns for Mountain View this season.
Last year's state runner-up, Westview is a big, athletic, hungry team whose only loss of the year came at the hands of Centennial. Quarterback Jourdon Grandon is a multi-dimensional threat, throwing for nearly 1,200 yards, rushing for over 600, and picking off two passes as a defensive back. Six different defenders have recorded at least two interceptions for the Knights this season.
The only sub-.500 team in the playoffs, Mountain View's stay in the postseason will likely be a short one. Westview's powerful running game has chewed-up nine opponents this season, and have the luxury of having one of the state's top athletes taking snaps. Westview 47, Mountain View 14.
#10 Willow Canyon Wildcats (7-3) @ #7 Boulder Creek Jaguars (8-2)
These two Northwest Region rivals played earlier this season, a contest won by Boulder Creek 35-9. The Jaguars might feature the best passing attack in 5A-2, behind senior quarterback Taylor Davis' strong arm (2042 passing yards, 23 scores, 67% completion percentage) and the sure hands of Dashawn Briggs (44 catches, 987 yards, 12 touchdowns). Running backs Phillip Bayus and Mike Contreras have kept defenses honest by combining for over 1,400 yards rushing. Briggs also serves as the team's defensive leader, leading the team in tackles, sacks, and interceptions.
Top sophomore Garrick Shelton has emerged as Willow Canyon's top offensive weapon, with his best game being a 329-yard, four touchdown effort against Kingman. Linebacker Collin Stoffel is an elite performer at that position, racking up 118 tackles on the season.
In their previous matchup Briggs powered the Jaguars to victory, accumulating over 200 yards on offense while making 10 tackles and two sacks on defense. Willow Canyon will need to keep him in check or establish their passing game in order to flip the script on Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek 31, Willow Canyon 17.
#15 Deer Valley Skyhawks (5-5) @ #2 Marcos de Niza Padres (9-1)
Deer Valley's .500 mark is deceptive, as they battled 5A-1 playoff team Basha hard before falling, were within an arm's length of Westview for much of their contest in September, and were competitive in losses to region foes Willow Canyon and Boulder Creek. Senior quarterback Pearce Swerdfeger is capable of throwing for big yardage against any foe, and targets Nate Skousen and Billy Lutz have accounted for 99 catches for over 1200 yards.
The Padres defense has been strong all season, giving up more than 20 points just once this season and recording 43.5 sacks. Two-way star Ramon Abreu has been tough at running back and linebacker, scoring 17 touchdowns along with 104 tackles. Quarterback David Schira has developed good connections with receivers Justin Rodriguez and Tevin Newell, with the two accounting for 15 of Marcos' 20 touchdowns through the air.
The Skyhawks are likely the best fifteen-seed in the nearly four-year history of the 5A-2 conference, and could make this more difficult on Marcos de Niza than expected. Still, the Padres' prowess on both sides of the ball will be too much for a Deer Valley squad with an often-suspect defense to overcome. Marcos de Niza 31, Deer Valley 17.