The brackets have been laid out, the matchups have been set, and playoff football is upon us in Arizona. Cienega captured the top seed in 5A and Sunrise Mountain jumped the four-time defending state champion Saguaro to capture the top seed in 4A. But many of the top teams from the East Valley remain as they attempt to raise the Golden Ball. The Road to Tucson begins on Friday and here is a breakdown of the first-round games for East Valley teams in the 5A and 4A conferences.
No. 5 Queen Creek (9-1) vs No. 12 Mountain View Marana (7-3)
The Bulldogs are coming off their lonely loss of the season, a 27-6 defeat at the hand of rivals Williams Field. Don’t look for this to affect the Bulldogs too much heading into the State Playoffs, both Devin Larsen, who threw two interceptions, and Dylan Borja, who was held to just 68 yards will bounce back. The defense also struggled to get to the quarterback against Williams Field, which has happened rarely for the Bulldogs. This game will come down to the defenses, if Queen Creek can keep the Mountain Lions out of the end zone, look for them to move on to the second round.
No. 3 Liberty (9-1) vs No. 14 Campo Verde (7-3)
The Lions are coming off arguably the biggest win of the season when they defeated No. 2 Centennial this past Friday. Senior Ryan Bendle has been a force both through the air and on the ground, throwing for 1,162 yards and running for 543 while combining for 26 touchdowns. Their defense is fast and strong, but they will have a formidable Campo running game to deal with as well. Junior Matt Leazier and senior Jett Brown have combined for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns. Senior Tucker Williams has also rushed for 317 yards and eight touchdowns. The Lions will also have to contain quarterback EJ Galvez, who has thrown for almost 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. This one will get interesting if the Coyotes can keep it close, but the Lions are clicking on a whole new level after beating Centennial.
No. 7 Williams Field vs No. 10 Chaparral
This is the matchup to watch in 5A. Chaparral caught Williams Field when they were plagued with injuries and suspensions, and the final score showed it. Time and time again the Blackhawks have shown the ability to win, which showed in their upset win over Queen Creek. Ultimately, the Blackhawks are the defending state champs and head coach Steve Campbell and quarterback Zach Shepherd have an opportunity to prove that they belong in the conversation in 5A. To do that, they will have to limit one of the best prospects in the country in quarterback Jack Miller. Last time around the Firebirds brought the heat and gave Shepherd no time to throw, look for the junior gun slinger to be ready this time around. Williams Field takes this one.
No. 8 Cactus Shadows vs No. 9 Marcos de Niza
Another year, another Paul Moro appearance in the State Playoffs. This one might be more significant for the all-time winningest coach in Arizona high school football, who was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this season. The Padres lost back to back games against Higley and Seton Catholic Prep, but finished the regular season with a win over Tempe. They already defeated Cactus Shadows once this season behind a 129-yard performance from sophomore Yakeen Baylis, and a 148 yard, two touchdown, passing performance from senior Marcos Moreno. The Padres will have to contain senior quarterback Andrew Young and sophomore running back Jaxen Schneider to capture another victory over Cactus Shadows. But they’ll also have to keep the Falcons out of their backfield as they have tallied 34 sacks this season. If the Padres can do that, look for them to set up a matchup with No. 1-seed Sunrise Mountain.
No. 3 Higley (9-1) vs No. 14 Buckeye Union (8-3)
This matchup will be a battle of two high scoring offenses and will come down to the Higley defense continuing their solid play and holding Buckeye to a minimum. The Knights have only allowed 95 points all season long, but the Hawks have scored 483. Buckeye is led by senior quarterback Joseph Perez who has thrown for 2,204 yards and 37 touchdowns as running for 1,145 yards and 17 touchdowns. If the Knights can contain Perez and limit his favorite target Anthony Smart to a minimum, the Knights should be able to put up enough points to walk away with this one.
No. 6 Seton Catholic Prep (8-2) vs Catalina Foothills (6-4)
The Sentinels received a little bit of a wake-up call after being shut out by Higley on Friday. But, it might of come at the right time and a rematch may be in their near future. In order to do that they will have to stop a Falcons running game that has rushed for 2,409 yards this season and 27 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Chris Kowalcek is the leading rusher for the Falcons and has also passed for 1,171 yards and eight touchdowns. Roman Decaro will have to play a huge role in this one and the offensive threats of Vincent Wallace and Nick Wade will need to get back on track if they want a rematch with the Knights.
Do you have a human-interest or feature story idea? Contact Sports Editor Greg Macafee at email@example.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee