Gilbert sectional play

Gilbert hopes to continue its winning ways as it enters sectional play against Horizon.

Mick Signa is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Gilbert High School athletics.

Coming off a big rivalry win over Mesa to capture their third consecutive win, the Gilbert Tigers look to maintain momentum heading into their bye week.

The Tigers, who now sit at 3-2, will begin their section opener next week against Horizon High School.

Along with it being their bye week, Gilbert is also on its fall break. As it is a “break” for the school it has allowed head coach Derek Zellner to take some time off and go visit his son, Wyatt, in Oregon.

However, this break doesn’t seem to stop the players from coming out and staying focused.

They aren’t satisfied—as they continue to make their push for the playoffs in a tough 5A division.

Defensive coordinator Quenton Maag and the rest of the coaching staff was tasked with preparing the team during the bye week.

A simple message from Maag to “keep building” was the mindset for practice all week.

“Winning is contagious and losing is contagious and we just need to just keep the winning going,” said Maag. “We’ve had three good weeks of practice and we need another great week of practice.”

After a disappointing 0-2 start to the season the Tigers have bounced back in a big way. With blowout wins against Betty Fairfax and Nogales they were able to carry that energy to knock off rival Mesa, 21-13.

It also marked the third straight game in which they held their opponent under 14 total points.

At the heart of the winning has been their defensive line. Over their three-game win streak they have averaged per game: 4.3 sacks, 2.7 quarterback hurries, and 22 tackles.

“I noticed that we are communicating,” said junior defensive lineman Joe Loveall. “When we communicate... midplay or whenever the ball is about to be snapped… that’s really useful.”

With a constant stream of pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, it opens up takeaway opportunities for the secondary.

The Tigers have tallied seven interceptions through their last four games. Including a 20-0 loss against Mesquite High School. Loveall recognizes that what they do up front is a big reason why the other areas of the defense are playing so well.

“Our defense has been phenomenal all year,” said senior safety Evan Smith.

Smith remarks that although there were some inconsistencies from the offense at the start of the season, the defense has remained constant. And with the offense finally settling into the season, the winning has arrived.

“We’ve stopped turning the ball over on offense,” said Smith. “That’s really given us better field position on defense.”

Getting the defense off the field and letting the offense do the heavy lifting has been a theme over the Tiger’s win streak.

“We’re [no longer]… trying to stop them from getting in the endzone from the two or three yard line,” said Smith. “That’s huge, letting our defense do our thing.”

As the Gilbert Tigers look ahead toward sectional play, they know it won’t be easy. Teams such as Saguaro High School, who have won the state title 12 times dating back to 1995, loom large in their division.

“We have to remain focused in practice,” says Loveall. “We can’t think of anything else other than academics… and keeping focus.”

Gilbert is set to take on Horizon next week at home. It is by far the biggest test so far this season for the Tigers.

Last season Horizon beat Gilbert in blowout fashion, 49-7.

“We have a great opponent coming up,” said Maag. “They’re well coached and disciplined, so we have to be the same.”

Much of the Tiger’s team from last year is gone, but this year's team knows what they are capable of.

“We got away from what we do best last year when we played them,” Maag said. “We started to try and do too much and it hurt us.”

Maag exuberates a strong sense of confidence coming out of the bye week. He mentions if the team plays hard and physical for the latter half of the season the team will be fine.

With a determined mindset heading into sectional play, the Gilbert Tigers are ready to put some teams on upset alert.

“I want the entire team to be on each other,“ said Loveall. “Whether or not we win, I just want us to get to our full potential.”

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