There was a time when Friday’s East Valley Region pseudo football championship looked as if it might be just another game on the schedule.
Red Mountain started the year limping, and not just because star Lance Lawson had a bum leg.
The Mountain Lions played two very good teams, and were nowhere near ready, and got hammered by Chandler and Hamilton.
Red Mountain had all offseason to prepare for the Wolves and then a bye week before taking on the Huskies.
Then lost by the combined score of 94-28.
It had new head coach Mike Peterson questioning the solidarity of the locker room.
A few weeks later, Skyline lost at home to Hamilton to drop the Coyotes to 2-3 on the season. Not a good look for a program that had not lost more than once in the regular season since 2013.
The roster was thin, young and didn’t look competitive against Highland and Desert Vista early in the season.
The Yotes were not playing like a Skyline team. The running game wasn’t good enough to setup the play-action passing game and the defense was missing assignments that led to big plays.
Uncharacteristic traits led to an under .500 record at the halfway mark.
Then a power shift happened.
The two teams have combined to win nine straight, almost all in convincing fashion, to leave no doubt the importance of Friday’s game at Red Mountain.
“I told them after the Basha game (the first win on Sept. 8) that this was a snowball and it was going to just keep getting bigger each week,” Peterson said. “It’s the way the season has gone and we are peaking at the right time.”
Skyline (5-3 overall, 3-0) enters the game on a three-game win streak with the confidence and swagger of a team expecting to clinch its third straight league championship.
Red Mountain (6-2, 3-0) is on the other side of desire. The Mountain Lions aren’t trying to keep something like the Coyotes. They are trying to earn a league championship for the first time since 2012.
A six-game win streak has Red Mountain believing its time has come.
“We’re a different team now,” senior defensive end Gabe Williams said after the Mountain View win. “We are in sync and we’ve come together. It took some time but right now we’re playing like we knew we could.”
The defense has been completely dominating – keeping opponents from completing a pass, rushing for less than 10 yards and scoring more points (via pick 6s and blocked punts) – while the offense is as rejuvenated as Lawson’s healthy ankle with the team scoring 40.6 points per game during the win streak.
On the other side, Skyline has found its identity on offense behind junior running back Aaron Wood, who has averaged 25.4 carries and 186.6 yards rushing over the last five. The offensive line will challenge Red Mountain’s front seven in away the Mountain Lions haven’t seen since Hamilton.
“The line has grown and developed since the stat of the season,” Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi said. “I knew what Aaron could do, but the line had to do its part.”
The Coyotes defense has some injuries – especially at safety and linebacker – that have kept the unit from being at its best but enter this game as healthy as it has been all year.
The one thing Skyline always relies on is that outside doubt that has always surrounded the program even after the Coyotes started beating teams it was supposed they never had a chance against in previous years.
“We know no one believes in us,” senior wide receiver/cornerback Darius Glover said. “We look at the predictions, and we start texting to everyone and use it as motivation.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.