Welcome to the final week of the high school football regular season, with much work to be done to clinch a spot in the big dance. Each of the six teams in northwest Tucson have a shot at keeping their playoff dreams afloat Friday night, depending on the outcome of their games.
The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks can clinch their region and solidify their playoff standing against Cienega in Vail.
The Marana Tigers can do the same on the border against Nogales, while Mountain View can clinch the 5A Sonoran region with a win at Flowing Wells.
The Canyon del Oro Dorados host a sneaky-good Casa Grande Cougars team in Oro Valley with a playoff berth likely on the line, while Catalina Foothills needs a win over Sahuaro and help to clinch an at-large berth in the 4A playoffs.
The Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions finish the year against Catalina Magnet in midtown Tucson, needing a win to feel secure about their position in the 3A playoffs.
Without further ado, here’s how I see those six programs stacking up from top-to-bottom ahead of Friday’s regular season finale:
1. Marana Tigers (6-3)
Last Week: Beat Sunnyside, 47-17
This Week: At Nogales, 7 p.m.
The Tigers are out of contention to win the 5A Southern region, thanks to losing to Buena and Cienega earlier this season. They still have a solid shot at finishing in the top-8 of 5A, and clinching a home first round playoff game, should they beat Nogales on the road on Friday. Senior quarterback Trenton Bourguet has been as good as advertised this fall, with 1,850 passing yards and 18 touchdowns (to 5 interceptions) for the Tigers, with another 384 yards and five scores on the ground. It’ll be interesting to see whether senior running back Xoeius Ratliffe will get enough carries on Friday to crack the 1,000-yard plateau, entering the contest with 779 rushing yards on 152 carries. The Tigers should be able to roll over the Apaches, setting up an interesting first round matchup with whoever they draw.
2. Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (5-4)
Last Week: Beat Buena, 31-20
This Week: At Cienega, 7 p.m.
The Nighthawks have been one of the most underrated teams in the region this season, thanks to starting out 1-3, thanks to a brutal opening stretch. They’ve found their stride in region play, beating Desert View, Nogales, Sunnyside and Buena by a combined score of 147-50. Matt Johnson’s team faces a grueling final game against an 8-1 Bobcats squad that’s averaged 36.9 points per game this year. The Nighthawks have the guns to contend, however, with senior back Nathan Grijalva averaging 123.8 rushing yards per game this season, pacing a run-first offense that’s tough to stop. Expect another high-scoring battle between the two 5A heavyweights on Friday, with the winner sitting pretty entering the playoffs.
3. CDO Dorados (6-3)
Last Week: Beat Vista Grande, 54-21
This Week: Vs. Casa Grande, 7 p.m.
The Dorados snapped out of the late-season funk in a big way against the Vista Grande Spartans in Casa Grande last Friday, with 552 offensive yards and 8 touchdowns in the win. Running backs Stevie Rocker and Diego Munguia tore the Spartans defense apart, with 116 and 103 rushing yards apiece in the win, while senior QB Zach Eidenschink completed 6-of-11 passes for 189 yards and two scores. The Dorados close out the year against a tough Casa Grande squad that’s sitting at 5-4 for the year, thanks to a tough defense that’s surrendered 16.1 points per game this year. The Dorados will need both running backs and their quarterback to be in fine form to beat the Cougars this week, clinching a good spot in the 4A playoffs.
4. Mountain View Lions (4-5)
Last Week: Beat Desert View, 38-13
This Week: At Flowing Wells, 7 p.m.
Clarence ‘Bam’ McRae’s Lions squad has resurrected itself after a brutal 0-5 start, beating its last four opponents in convincing fashion. The Lions suddenly have a pulse entering their finale against the Caballeros (8-1) on Friday, thanks to the continued rise of sophomore quarterback Hayden Parson, who’s averaged 164.6 yards per game this season, in addition to a defense that’s risen to the challenge of-late. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lions can spring the upset against Flowing Wells on Friday, which would give them a fighting chance at stealing a playoff berth in the 5A dance.
5. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions (4-5)
Last Week: Lost to Safford, 35-34
This Week: At Catalina Magnet, 7 p.m.
The Lions’ playoff odds to a big dent on Friday, falling to the 14th spot in the latest AIA rankings thanks to a one-point loss to Safford. Jerry Harris’ team is not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, even if his team wins against the Trojans on Friday, thanks to the automatic bids that go to region winners, even if they’re ranked outside the top-16 in 3A. Expect the team, led by sophomore back Evan Lovett, who has a team-high 895 rushing yards and 11 scores this year, to respond with gusto tomorrow night in Tucson.
6. Catalina Foothills Falcons (4-5)
Last Week: Lost to Salpointe Catholic, 42-14
This Week: Vs. Sahuaro, 7 p.m.
The Falcons enter their final regular season game outside the top-16, after a 28-point loss to the Salpointe Catholic Lancers last week. It’ll be interesting to see how the squad fares in their finale, given longtime coach Jeff Scurran’s impending retirement and the emotion that’s sure to engulf the contest. Sahuaro is a really good team, with a 7-2 record this year, with a defense that’s surrendered a mere 12.4 points per game this year. It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons’ two-headed rushing attack of Dominic Bynum, who leads the team with 951 rushing yards, and Isaiah Bae, who has 755 yards on 91 carries, handle the Cougars stout defense. Win and the Falcons might sneak in to the 4A playoffs. Lose, and the Scurran era finishes on a sour note, capping off a second-consecutive losing season for the Falcons.