Best in the West 2020: Week 1 Preview

Best in the West is back in 2020 to preview some of the biggest games and west side battles in the West Valley. This notebook is here to help keep track of what’s happening on the west side and which teams are vying to make 2020 into a championship season.

 

Best in the West Game of the Week: Chandler @ Liberty

The best team in the state of Arizona and a top-ten team in the nation is visiting the west side. The inaugural Open Division Champion, Chandler Wolves, open their season against the Liberty Lions who earned their first program state championship after defeating Red Mountain in the 6A Conference title game.

The Wolves and Lion have won the past four 6A State Titles with Chandler winning in 2016, 2017, and 2018, and the Lions claiming the crown in 2019. Last season was a tale of two extremely different teams. The Wolves went flawless in 2019. It appeared not a single team could touch Chandler throughout the season as CHS defeated some of the best teams in the state to go 10-0 in the regular season and dominated the first Open Division Playoff, defeating some of the best teams from top Conferences.

The Lions season was far less perfect. After a remarkable 9-1 regular season in 2018, Liberty’s hope for a state title was crushed following a missed field goal at the buzzer in a loss to Highland. The Lions were expected to be dominant in 2019 but after dropping over half their Region games, they ended the regular season 6-4. Liberty adapted and improved rapidly on offense and defense, showcasing their talent all the way to the state championship where Zay Johnson made an endzone interception to win the 6A Championship in overtime.

Former Offensive Coordinator, Collin Thomas, was promoted to head coach following the departure of Mark Smith in spring. Along with a new coach, a new starting quarterback, Brock Mast, enters his senior season at the helm of the offense after receiving valuable snaps at the position over the past two seasons. Even though it’s early in the year and there was no spring ball or 7-on-7’s, the Lion offense will need to be on all cylinders just to have a chance to defeat Chandler. Sophomore running back, Zaccheus Cooper, looked wise beyond his years in his freshman season while senior, Cailin Knapp will be expected to lead at the receiver position on offense.

Stopping Chandler quarterback, Mikey Keene, and running back, Eli Sanders was a task no team could complete in 2019. Keene threw for nearly 3,000 yards last season and Sanders accounted for nearly 800 total yards. This will be a monumental game for senior, Shane Pitts, junior, Jax Stam, and the rest of the defense to showcase their skill and try to keep Chandler’s scoring to a manageable margin.

Week 1 Rivalry Battle

Rivalry football comes early this year for many teams. The first west side rivalry to hit the turf will be next to the I-17 as the Barry Goldwater Bulldogs look to continue their winning ways against the Deer Valley Skyhawks. Both teams have shown improvement over the past two seasons but a shortened 2020 will make growth difficult for every team in the state.

For the first time, BGHS has back-to-back victories against their district rivals. A consistent ground game has been the key to the Bulldogs’ victories in the past two seasons. The offense has a combined 79 passing yards in their past two meetings against Deer Valley while the rush game combined those same two games for nearly 800 yards. Last season, Earnest Greenwood’s 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns propelled Goldwater to the victory with their defense totaling six sacks and multiple players compiling double-digit tackles. In 2019, the Bulldogs finished 6-4 for the second season in a row. A rivalry win for the Bulldogs to open up 2020 would be a great way to continue their growth in the 5A Conference.

While a 3-7 4A Conference season for Deer Valley left much to be desired last season, the Skyhawks showed improvement following an 0-10 season in 2018. While senior leader, Charles Hill, produced in every way offensively, DVHS was extremely young on offense with two junior quarterbacks at the helm. Sophomore, Ashton Hill, led the team in rushing yards along with eight TD’s. The Skyhawks gave up over 30 points in the last two meetings to Goldwater and the defense is starting to mature. Last season’s defense was compiled mostly of sophomores and juniors now becoming upperclassmen. Containing the Goldwater run game will be vital fpr Deer Valley’s chances of claiming a rivalry victory.

Rivalry football is back and both teams have plenty of momentum to gain from a rivalry victory to open the season.

A District Battle Back Again

Following a two-year hiatus, the battle between Cactus and Sunrise Mountain is back on. Previously, this matchup was a high-octane drag race to a thrilling finish. In the last four meetings, though, Sunrise Mountain scored over 50 points per game while Cactus surpassed 14 points on only one occasion.

The Cobras return an extremely young roster, including a sophomore quarterback, Will Galvan. Veteran experience on offense such as senior, Antonio Pratt, who led the team in receiving yards last season, can help the young quarterback settle in. Defensively, Riley Davies and Justin Holmes, the Cobras’ two leaders in sacks in 2018, will have the ability to spice up the defense and try to contain the Mustangs offense on the front lines. The Cobras are still hungry after making to the 4A State Semis in 2019 and a season-opening victory against a 5A district rival would be a great boost to start 2020.

The Mustangs again refilled the QB position this offseason following the success of three great athletes at the position over the past five years. Offensive leader in 2019, Ezekiel Marshall, will be expected to play a large role after logging nearly 800 total yards of offense last year. Seniors, Tommy Arnold, Micah Scott, and Owen Thomas will be a fun group to watch after a successful season together in 2019 on defense all accumulating a multitude of sacks.

On paper, both teams look extremely similar and could make another classic battle between the two on Friday night.


 

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