Last year's magical run at Pusch Ridge included a nine-game winning streak before a season-ending, 28-7 second-round playoff loss to Yuma Catholic.
"We felt like our team was blessed all year," said coach Bob Vance. "We were really good. It wasn't because we were more talented. God blessed our season."
The Lions had a high-powered offense that scored more than 40 points eight times. At times, it looked like they were conducting throw-and-catch practice drills with their spread offense.
Six of Pusch Ridge's eight all-league performers have graduated. Only speedster Tyler Vance and kicker Chad Springetti return.
Senior Vance and classmate Tyler Goodwillie "will be the two guys I'm counting on at the skill positions," Bob Vance said before the Lions host their season-opener with Northwest Christian at 7 p.m. Friday.
"John Jackson is a key at offensive lineman and linebacker, and Ryan Tanner and Colin Chafin are keys also."
The quarterback job is up for grabs between newcomers Ryan Genzman and Josh Mendibles, both juniors. "Goodwillie might play some, too," Vance said. "This year we might run more, depending on how things shake out at quarterback."
The Lions, fast a year ago, should be so again.
"Speed is always one of our strengths," Vance said.
Pusch Ridge's defense was often overshadowed by its high-powered offense, but the defense was very solid.
"(Defensive coordinator) Coach Mark Frithsen is such a good coach," Vance said. "I think we'll be just as effective."
"We've got Tyler Goodwillie at safety and Tyler Vance at cornerback," Frithsen said.
"We'll need to experiment. We're having some players play that haven't played before. Usually our first game is pretty ugly. So many new kids."
"Ryan Tanner can be almost unblockable at times," Vance said. "John Jackson might be tried at linebacker, or else he'll play defensive lineman."
"We did all right on defense last year," Frithsen said. "As long as the offense scores, it takes a lot of pressure off the defense."
Pusch Ridge has but 22 varsity players. "A lot of guys go both ways," Vance said.
Jackson thinks the team can go unbeaten in region for the third straight year.
"We may not score so many points," Jackson said. "We'll have a solid defense."
In the region, "I would still pick us," Vance said. "We may not have the single standout. But a lot of guys who are very good. I expect to win again."
Region: 2A South
Coach Bob Vance, 3rd year
Sept. 3 Northwest Christian
Sept. 10 at Phoenix Christian
Sept. 17 at Miami
Sept. 24 Baboquivari
Oct. 1 San Manuel
Oct. 8 at Canyon State Academy
Oct. 15 at Hayden
Oct. 22 San Carlos
Oct. 29 at Ray
Jackson a key on both sides
John Jackson doesn't touch the ball for Pusch Ridge Christian, but his value shows whenever the high-flying Lions score touchdowns.
The senior left tackle is a key piece of a line that helped pave the way for 2009's 2A player of the year, Greg Schimke, to throw the most touchdowns passes and second-most passing yards in Southern Arizona last year. The Lions scored more than 40 points nine different times.
"Greg has a great heart," Jackson said of the graduated Schimke. "He gave us credit in giving him a lot of time to throw.
"(This year) we'll be able to blow up some holes and run well."
Jackson's value becomes of paramount importance on a team that coach Bob Vance says doesn't have as much depth s it did a year ago.
Last year, the Lions had eight players make the 2A all-league teams. Two of those return.
"We may not score so many points," Jackson said. "I think we'll have a solid defense."
Jackson plans to be part of that solid defense. If all goes according to plan, Pusch Ridge will have another playoff run, and Jackson will make one of the 2A all-league teams.
Defensive coordinator Mark Frithsen said he's replacing all of his linebackers from last year. Jackson hopes to make the conversion to fill one of those holes.
"I played a fair amount of defense," Jackson said. "But linebacker will be a new challenge."
"John Jackson, at offensive lineman and linebacker, will be a key," Vance said.
"Coach has faith in me," Jackson said.
"We'd like to go unbeaten in region for the third straight year," Jackson said. "We can go further in state."
— Curtis Elliott