An 18-year streak has finally come to an end for the Red Mountain High School football program.
On Dec. 6, the Mountain Lions will play for the 6A Conference championship.
“I’m so proud of my kids and my coaching staff,” Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson said. “They all do it and I stay out of their way. I’m just so happy for them, for our school and our community.”
Red Mountain’s last championship appearance came in 2001, at the time led by former coach Jim Jones. The Mountain Lions went 13-1 that year, defeating a John Wrenn led Hamilton team in a 13-10 defensive battle.
On Friday night in the semifinals, No. 1 Red Mountain, which is now 12-1 on the year, defeated No. 4 Queen Creek to advance to the title game. The wet field conditions from three days of rain in the Valley made it difficult for players to gain traction at times, but the Mountain Lions prevailed behind its stout defense and running game led by senior quarterback Hyrum Boren and senior running back Ty McElroy.
“The coaches told me all week I would have to step up and I knew that with Deonce going down,” McElroy said. “I just want to thank God and my coaches for preparing me for this moment right here.”
McElroy took over lead-back duties after senior Deonce Elliott, who he had shared the workload with throughout the season, went down with an injury in the quarterfinals. That injury held him out of the semifinals game and will likely leave him out for the title game as well.
The senior rushed for 178 yards and a touchdown. Boren, who struggled through the air with three interceptions, added 86 yards and a touchdown of his own.
“Credit to the offense, they found a way to win tonight on this wet, slippery field,” Peterson said. “We did what we had to do.”
Boren and McElroy have played lights out for Red Mountain throughout the season.
McElroy’s showing in the semifinals increased his season total rushing yards to 910. He also has 10 touchdowns. Boren, meanwhile, the team’s third leading rusher, now has 805 yards on the ground heading into the title game along with 11 touchdowns.
Boren’s three interceptions against Queen Creek were uncharacteristic of the senior gun-slinger, who threw just two all season long.
But even with the unsettling turnovers, Red Mountain never lost control of the game. It’s defense, led by a slew of next-level talent, continuously put pressure on Queen Creek’s offense, as they have all season long.
“We knew we had to establish the line of scrimmage and diminish their run game,” Red Mountain sophomore linebacker Parker McClure said. “We shut that out pretty early, but we knew they would come back to it. We also knew we had to stay disciplined in the back.
“We did a pretty good job at that.”
McClure leads Red Mountain in tackles this season with 106. Close behind him is senior linebacker Major Kelley senior defensive end Tre Smith, who has a staggering 17.5 sacks this season.
The Mountain Lions will look to its defense to come up with big plays one last time as they take on a Liberty offense filled with playmakers in the 6A championship game. Liberty, who entered the tournament as the 7-seed, defeated No. 6 Desert Vista to advance to the title game. Senior quarterback Jonah Guevara, despite battling a stomach virus, picked apart the Thunder’s secondary, while freshman running back Zaccheus Cooper led the team on the ground.
Liberty presents a tough challenge for Red Mountain, but rising to the occasion is something the Mountain Lions have done well in recent years.
This season marked Red Mountain’s third consecutive trip to the playoffs under Peterson, who took over the program in 2017. It was the Mountain Lions’ third trip to the semifinals in four years dating back to former coach Ron Wisniewski’s final season.
In 2016, Red Mountain nearly beat Mountain Pointe. In 2017, the Mountain Lions ran into a dominant Chandler team. Last year, they fell to Pinnacle in the quarterfinals.
The Mountain Lions finally prevailed this season, and will take on Liberty for the 6A championship on Dec. 6 at Sun Devil Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” McElroy said. “But the one thing I know is every day since the summer this team has worked toward this. The only thing on our mind was a ring.
“We are still chasing it but we’ve got one more game. It’s right there.”