Top-seeded Phoenix Arizona Lutheran received plenty of attention after its 60-6 win over Kearns Canyon Hopi in the first round of the Division V state playoffs.
The reasons, however, were tragic.
Hopi High School senior Charles Youvella died Monday, two days after sustaining a head injury in the team’s loss to Arizona Lutheran. It made national headlines and surely shook up every football team in Arizona.
Tonight at 6, Arizona Lutheran (10-1) will return to the field when it hosts No. 9 Pusch Ridge Christian. Emotions will be on overload as both teams try to focus on football and advancing to the state semifinals, something the visiting Lions have never done.
Pusch Ridge (9-1) will enter tonight’s game with an eight-game winning streak, including its first playoff win since 2009 and just its third ever.
“They’ve worked really hard this season to escalate as the weeks go on and try and get better,” Pusch Ridge’s second-year coach Troy Cropp said. “Not just sit back and say, ‘OK, we’re doing great so we’ll throttle it back.’ It’s a constant desire to be outstanding.”
Back in the postseason for the first time since 2010, an undersized but aggressive Pusch Ridge rolled over No. 8 Phoenix Bourgade Catholic 28-6 in the first round last week.
Senior running back Connor Reilly had arguably his best game of the season last week, leading the team in rushing with 155 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
With senior quarterback Jacob Frithsen sidelined the last month with a broken collarbone, Pusch Ridge will continue to lean on the legs of Reilly and backfield mate Taylor Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, a junior, is Pusch Ridge’s first 1,000-yard rusher and is fifth in the division with 1,276 yards.Clearing a path for the two all season has been seniors Aaron Borane and fellow two-way lineman Cameron Dwan. Defensively, the pair anchors a 4-3 scheme that has allowed just 56 points, including three shutouts, during the past eight games.
Borane, a 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound defensive end, recorded his team-leading fourth sack last week against Bourgade. At 6-2 and 250 pounds, Dwan is a major cog in a defense that has given up 14 or more points just once this season.
The Lions will need big games out of both players if they’re going to have a chance at slowing down a balanced Coyotes attack, averaging more 500 yards a game, the best in the division.
“Our defense is just fun to play on,” Borane said. “We can shut out any team. We can be in any game. We have the ability to go all the way.”