Home High Schools Defenses play key part in playoff teams’ journey

Defenses play key part in playoff teams’ journey

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Westwood's Anthony William-Cyrus (43) is smothered by the Red Mountain defense.(Darryl Webb/MyNewsMesa.com)

A moment will rise at some point Friday night when the defense is going to be called upon to make a stop.

It might be on third down to get the offense back on the field early in the game, or in the red zone just before halftime to keep the score where it is or in the final minute to pull out a win in the first-round playoff game.

It’s going to happen. Probably more than once. After all, it has long been said that defenses win championships.

Four area teams would love to prove that over the next four games over five weeks as No. 2 Desert Ridge (9-1), No. 7 Red Mountain (8-2), No. 13 Skyline (6-4) and No. 14 Mountain View (6-4) prepare for the 6A Conference playoffs.

All four teams have had the defense play a part in getting to this point.

Skyline had a goal-line stand to beat Mountain View; the Toros gave up an average of 9.3 points the final three weeks to get into the playoffs; Red Mountain had three picks 6s in a win over Dobson; Desert Ridge had two stops including a pick 6 to close out the Mountain Pointe to take control of the region race.

Those challenges got them here and new ones are presented this week.

Skyline’s Aaron Romero (50) lays out to pull in another first quarter interception. (Corey Cross\MyNewsMesa.com)

Skyline takes on Hamilton, which has three wide receivers over 6-foot, a running back who has more moves than U-Haul and a quarterback with a deft touch and command of the offense.

The Coyotes have already shown they can slow the Huskies (7-3) by allowing the second lowest scoring total (27) of the season, including just six at the half.

“They are extremely discipline in how they run offense,” Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi said. “Going back to my days at Gilbert and Desert Ridge I have played them at least 18 to 20 times. I know them well, but we still must play well. They have a lot of weapons.”

The Coyotes have their own weapons in defensive end Aaron Romero (52 tackles, 5.0 sacks, INT), defensive tackle Sam To’otoo (33 tackles), cornerback Darius Glover (43 tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 passes defended, three caused fumbles) and linebacker Zack Kriens (93 tackles, 1 INT).

Mountain View junior linebacker Jeremiah Hollen pursues Valley Vista sophomore tailback Aiden Cunningham during Thursday’s season opener in Surprise. (Ralph Amsden/Arizonavarsity.com)

Mountain View has a similar task in taking on No. 3 Chandler (8-2) as the Wolves have one of the most talented and explosive offenses in the state.

It’s going to all about making tackles and avoiding the big play. There are a lot of weapons to contain.

The Toros will have to rely on defense end Jared Mix (68 tackles, 12 TFLs, 8.0 sacks), middle linebacker Jeremiah Hollen (97 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 INTs), outside linebacker Alex Talamantes (66 tackles, 12 TFLs) and defensive back Tate Allen (68 tackles, 5 INT) to make plays like they have all season.

“The biggest thing we need is to do is keep up the whole game this week,” Hollen said. “We have to keep our heads up after mistakes, make some mistakes and get as many turnovers as possible.”

Desert Ridge’s Desha Bennett swallows up Desert Mountain’s Kedon Slovis. (Andy Silvas/MyNewsMesa.com)

The Desert Ridge defense has been one of the most disruptive front sevens in the state even though the Harris boys (Jalen graduated, and Jason transferred) never played a down.

The Jaguars bring 40.5 sacks and 73.5 tackles for a loss in their game against Westview. They are on the attack always, but this week is a different type of challenge.

The pass rush will be tough to come by simply because the Knights (5-5) run (419) the ball 300 more times than they have thrown (119) it so it is going to come down to assignment football, being disciplined and making the tackle after tackle.

“I think we have some of the premier pass rushers in the state,” Hathcock said. “I don’t think anyone expected that coming into the year, but this group has really come together.”

The Jaguars have been led by defensive ends Desha Bennett (59 tackles, 19 TFLs, 14.5 sacks), Ty Miller (30 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks in 7 games), linebacker Chayse Thompson (90 tackles, 3.5 TFLs) and cornerback Donjae Logan (39 tackles, 5 INTs).

“We feel like we can line up against anyone,” Bennett said. “We were young to start the year, but now we have the confidence and experience.”

Red Mountain’s defense went through some growing pains early while facing two of the top offenses – Chandler and Hamilton – and looked lost.

It didn’t sit well with first-year head coach Mike Peterson, who was Red Mountain’s defense coordinator for seven years and throughout his career at various stops.

He remained patient, believed in defensive coordinator Kyle Enders, and the players started to flourish in a system that has been in place but tweaked over the years.

Now this week’s opponent – Horizon (7-3) – must take on a unit that has evolved into a championship caliber unit that scores on pick 6s, holds opponents to less than 20 yards rushing and pitches a shutout in a region championship game.

“It’s been nice to see the defense do well, especially when I see such a rock-solid scheme built that no matter the opponent, we have a call or a front or coverage to quickly compensate,” Peterson said. “Enders is as good a young coach as I’ve seen. Every year we get better at something.”

Red Mountain’s Gabe Williams sacks Gilbert’s Jack Plummer. (Darryl Webb/MyNewsMesa.com)

Or each week as it seemed this week with defensive linemen Gabe Williams (52 tackles, 10 TFLs, 9 sacks), Alexander Randle (46 tackles, 8 sacks, 10 TFLs), Francis Kumi (41 tackles, 10 TFLs, 8 sacks), linebacker Joey Sanchez (65 tackles, 7 TFL) and safety Justin Coleman (27 tackles) stepping into prominent roles.

Roles that will be called on again this week by all the defenses. Creating vital plays when it counts the most. Giving their team a shot to move on to the next round.

“At this point, it is a matter of finding a way to win and play another week,” Hathcock said. “With the way our defense is playing, I am completely comfortable if it comes down to them getting the job done.”

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

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