Ridge set to tangle with Blue Devils - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Ridge set to tangle with Blue Devils

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2007 2:51 pm | Updated: 6:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions football team is ready this time around. Following a baptism by fire during a 5-6 season a year ago, second-year coach Bobby Green said he expects play to be vastly improved for his squad this season, particularly on offense. "Last year, we basically only had two guys with much varsity experience, where this year we return seven starters on each side of the ball," Green said. "I feel much better about where we are than at this time a year ago. The kids have a much better grasp on what we're trying to do." Tonight the Glendale school opens the 2007 campaign against Tucson Sunnyside in a rematch of the opening game for both teams in 2006. The Glendale school is in the midst of a metamorphosis. After winning three region titles during a five-year run under coach Steve Belles, a stretch that included a trip to the 2005 state championship game, the Mountain Lions opened the 2006 season with a new coach, Green. The long-time defensive coordinator brought in a new offensive look replacing Belles' wing-T with a spread offense that is based in part on the one Florida coach Urban Meyer used at Utah and with the Gators. A vastly different look offensively was coupled with one of the youngest Mountain Ridge teams to take the field in years. The result was a 19-3 opening night loss to a Sunnyside Blue Devils' squad that would go on to finish 11-3 and advance to the 5A Div-II championship game. The Mountain Lions would win the Northwest Region and make their sixth consecutive state playoff appearance. It wasn't easy as the team suffered growing pains getting off to an 0-4 start before rallying to finish 5-6. Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez knows his squad, which went 11-3 last year before losing in the 5A Div-II title game, will be faced with a sterner test this season. "We saw some of their games at the end of last year and they were a completely different team than the one we played in Week 1," said Sanchez who has led the Blue Devils to three state titles and three state runner-up finishes in his 15 years at the Tucson school. "I think they have an advantage in preparing in that we don't really know what to expect. In that first game, they were still using some of the wing-T stuff, but by the end, they really had opened things up a great deal. We've had to prepare for a lot of different looks." Leading the Mountain Ridge offense will be junior quarterback Kevin Yost who threw for 1,452 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore, connecting on 54 percent of his passes. Green has seen the development he was hoping for in his signal caller. "You can see the maturity and the confidence from being in the same system for another year," the coach said. "The game was a lot faster for him last year. It has slowed down and he has grown up a lot. Leading us to a victory against North Canyon late last year to win the region title and then to play as well as he did against Hamilton (the team that would win the championship), in the first round of the playoffs has helped a lot." Joining Yost in the backfield will be senior running back Giorgio Giurdanella, who rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006 while averaging more than 6 yards per carry. "We've got a new line coach in Kip Thomas and he's done a great job," Green said. "In our blocking schemes, we think Giorgio is going to have a chance to break some long ones this year. He's really going to surprise some people." And even though Mountain Ridge receiving corps lacks varsity experience, Green said his team will utilize four and five receiver sets regularly. While last year's game was a defensive slugfest, this one could very well see some offensive fireworks. "Last year, we were pretty young offensively and we asked the defense to carry us early while the offense caught up," said Sanchez, who is 122-46 in his tenure at Sunnyside. "This year it's pretty much reversed. The guys on defense don't have much varsity experience." Experienced or not, Green knows what to expect from a Sanchez-coached club. "They're always well-coached, fundamentally sound," Green said. "And even if they aren't the biggest kids, they play physically. It will be a real good test for our team." Green's defense will be put to the test by senior running back Jovan Stevenson. The 190-pound back rushed for more than 1,600 yards as a junior and scored 12 touchdowns in the process. "He's one of the best backs in the state," Green said. "He has the speed to get outside, but the power to pound it in the middle. He's got great vision as well. Our challenge is to stop the running game. You can't count on one or two guys making the play to bring him down. It has to be everybody flying to the ball." Taking that challenge head on will be the front seven for Mountain Ridge, a group led by defensive ends Mike Brown, a senior and junior Marcel Joyeux. "Brown was all-region last year and I imagine they'll run away from him most of the game, but those two compliment each other well," Green said. The defense returns its three junior starting linebackers, Mike Chocholousek, Brett Hager and Ian Grow. "It's going to be a dog fight," Green said. "You always want to start well and the players and coaches have worked really hard to prepare. Now it comes down to executing what we've worked on." Sanchez is also eager for the start of the season. "It's hard to anticipate what will come with first-game jitters," he said. "You have to say though it will come down to how each team responds to adversity. What happens when there's a big play on special teams, a turnover or a quick score. The team that deals with those things better will win." Mountain Ridge is located at 22800 N. 67th Ave., Glendale. Check westvalleypreps.com following the game for complete coverage of tomight's games. On Wednesday the site will feature a preview of Thursday's Centennial-Hamilton matchup.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]