What we learned in Week 7 of Arizona HS football: West side takeover, wild finish, breakthroughs

Richard Obert
Arizona Republic

West side, best side? Bold statements. Breaking through. Week 7 of the Arizona high school football season had it all. Let's wind it back and figure out what it all means moving forward.

Biggest takeaway

It's been trending for a while. But, in case anybody east of Hayden Road in Scottsdale hadn't noticed, the West Valley can play some football. Centennial has been the cornerstone for at least a couple of decades. But the Peoria school north is now catching everybody's attention.

The Liberty Lions improved to 4-0 after beating defending Open champion Saguaro 26-17. It was their first challenge of the season after blowing out their first three opponents. And left-handed junior quarterback Navi Bruzon, looking like Russell Wilson from his  Seahawks days, once again showed off his amazing efficiency and clutch play. This time it was with his legs as well as his left arm. Bruzon threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, completing the last 10 passes he threw, to give Liberty a 19-10 lead. He ended up 16 of 22 for 257 yards and four TDs, and ran for 56 yards on 23 carries.

The Liberty Lions take the field to face the Saguaro Sabercats during a game played at Saguaro High in Scottsdale on Sept. 30, 2022.

When Saguaro scored to cut it to 19-17 late in the third quarter, Bruzon would only let Saguaro run four more plays the rest of the game, ball-hogging with a 19-play drive that included 15 running plays, and finishing off the game by playing keep away with a mix of offense, sometimes going to the Double Wing T with Bruzon faking a handoff and taking it up the middle for a first down.

With wide receiver Prince Zombo making two tremendous touchdown catches — one in the final seconds of the first half and the last coming with 6:48 to play on fourth down — the duo of Bruzon and Zombo was clutch when the Lions needed a play the most.

The Liberty way:Peoria program has transformed into Arizona HS football mega-power

This in is no fluke. And it shouldn't be a wake-up call to the rest of Arizona. Liberty has been on a rise for some time, and came into the game ranked one spot above the Sabercats at No. 3 in The Arizona Republic's Open Division rankings. It was picked to win.

And, if Liberty needs to take it another step further, it will have its chance next week with an even bigger game at No. 2 (Open) Chandler Basha, which only loss since 2020 came against Liberty in last year's Open first round.

Wildest finish, biggest breakthrough

Mesa Westwood accomplished both behind the incredible, all-around play of senior Nikita McCrimon, who scored five touchdowns, including two in the final three minutes to erase a nine-point deficit to give the Warriors an improbable 59-58 win over previously unbeaten Marana.

With three minutes left, Marana had a nine-point lead and was ready to put the game away from the Westwood 1. Then, McCrimon picked off a pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was good to cut the score to one. Westwood recovered the on-side kick with less than two minutes to play.

A a few plays later, McCrimon was in the end zone again, the Warriors converted a two-point play and the Warriors had a 59-52 lead. Marana needed only two plays to score a touchdown — a 65-yard strike from Elijah Joplin (377 yards passing in the game) to Jason Wood (125 yards receiving on four catches). The Tigers went for two, and, after a delay-of-game penalty, was unsuccessful, and the Warriors, after recovering the on-side kick, left Marana with the biggest win in coach Brandon Large's tenure.

The former Westwood quarterback took over the program this season and recorded his second win. To beat a good Marana team (ranked sixth in 5A by The Republic) can only help the confidence of the Warriors (2-3) moving forward, as they head into the second half of the season.

Week 7 roundup:Chandler, Cesar Chavez, Marcos notch wins

McCrimon has been the bright spot of Westwood's season, playing running back and receiver and cornerback and returning kickoffs. "He's a stud," Large said.

"It was a very big win for us," Large said. "We knew coming in they were going to be a very good team. It can be a turning point."

Centennial Coyotes senior defensive tackle Dylan Roberts (53) celebrates sacking Williams Field junior quarterback Travis Ebner (16) at Centennial HS football field in Peoria on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Back on the rise

Centennial built a 17-0 lead against Gilbert Williams Field, only to hang on for a 24-22 victory. That makes the Coyotes 4-1, a year after winning a total of three games. Revisiting the weight room in the offseason quickly rebuilt coach Richard Taylor's team. Taylor also made staff changes on the offensives side of the ball after struggling to move the ball last season.

The defense has been physical, punishing, fast. That D came together to snuff out a two-point try with 54 seconds left after Dylan Lee scored a touchdown to cut it to 24-22. Kenny Worthy III had three takeaways.

This might not be 2017 good, but the Coyotes are getting to closer to what made them one of the state's most feared team at any level. Their only loss was the opener to Chandler Hamilton, a game in which the Coyotes had twice as many yards but committed six turnovers. Clean up the mistakes, and they can hang with anybody.

Best statement

Tempe Corona del Sol junior Connor Ackerley had a breakthrough performance in a 45-14 win over Surprise Valley Vista, putting him in the conversation for elite 2024 class, which is loaded at quarterback in Arizona.

He set a school record with six TD passes. He passed for 408 yards, completing 15 or 21. His 70% passing completion on the season leads 6A quarterbacks. He threw TD passes to four different receivers Friday. The Aztecs, especially Ackerley, are getting used to new coach Jake Barro's pass-happy, spread-it-out offense. And they're loving it.

Week 7:Arizona high school football schedule, scores

Wild ride of 4A football

Phoenix St. Mary's began the season ranked No. 1 in 4A by The Republic but Friday's 24-8 loss to Oro Valley Canyon del Oro further shows how deep and how wide open the conference is.

Snowflake, the two-time defending 3A champion, is holding on at No. 1 after beating Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain 19-3. Apache Junction will slip in 4A after losing to Flagstaff Coconino 28-21.

Tempe Marcos de Niza keeps writing its comeback story, beating Flagstaff 30-12 to improved to 5-0 under Marcos alum Anthony Figueroa. 

Snowflake's defense is really good. But good enough to win a big-school title? Maybe. A home game against American Leadership Gilbert North in two weeks will be very telling. ALA GN, coming off a loss to 5A ALA Queen Creek, is another team moved up from 3A with a shot at the 4A crown.

It's as wild and open as it's ever been in the smallest of the big-school conferences.

Freshman to fear

Brett Davis' Tonopah Valley "44 Shoot"  offense is a quarterback's best friend. But freshman Malachi Wilt has been a really fast learner. Thrust into the starting role a few weeks ago due to Chance Logan's injury, Wilt tied a single-game 2A record with nine touchdown passes in a 58-0 win over Mountainside. Six different receivers caught TD passes. Wilt was 29 of 34 for 521 yards and one interception. It was 52-0 at the half.

Wilt had a total of six TD passes in his first three varsity games. In four games, he has 1,247 passing yards. More importantly, Tonopah Valley is 3-1, winning its last three games, with Wilt at QB.

"The offense is the most QB-friendly offense you'll see," said first-year Tonopah coach Davis. "It’s complex in some ways but very simple and logical in many others. There are so many options for the QB to be successful against anything a defense can throw at him."

Around the state

—No. 1 (Open and 6A) Chandler had little trouble in its 59-27 victory over Mesa Red Mountain, as Dylan Raiola passed for 211 yards and four TDs, completing 17 of 21. Junior back Ca'lil Valentine continued his breakout year with 132 yards and a TD rushing and 92 yards and three TDs receiving with a combined 20 touches. Tyreeq Styles Obichere returned two kickoffs for TDs and ran twice for 92 yards and a score.

—Chandler Prep junior running back/receiver Creon Fulgham set a single-game school record with seven TDs in a 55-0 win over San Pasqual. He returned a kickoff for a TD, a punt for a TD, had a receiving TD and four rushing TDs.

—Mesa Mountain View bounce back from a tough loss against unbeaten Scottsdale Desert Mountain with a 29-26 win over Scottsdale Chaparral as QB Jack Germaine completed 23 of 29 for 377 yards and two TD passes to track star Zack Gaumont, who had eight catches for 194 yards.

—Drew Tapley and Brady McDonough combined to pass for 274 yards and three TDs in top-ranked 5A Desert Mountain's 41-3 rout of 4A Phoenix Arcadia. It was 21-3 at the half, before the Wolves scored three third-quarter touchdowns. Max Shefrin ran for 126 yards and a TD on 18 carries.

—No. 1 2A Morenci posted its fourth shutout, beating Globe 56-0, as Daylen Johnson completed five of six for 110 yards and a TD and Michael Casillas ran 12 times for 112 yards and three scores.

—Top-ranked 3A Tucson Sabino lost its first game, falling to Tucson Pusch Ridge 41-20. Bubba Mustain, a quarterback/safety, intercepted three passes for Pusch Ridge, which bounced back from the Thatcher loss. Mustain also threw a couple of TD passes.

—Ryan Gooding passed for 262 yards and seven TDs and ran for 54 yards in No. 1 1A (8-man) St. David's 69-34 win over San Manuel.

Game of the Week

No. 3 Liberty (4-0) again will be in the spotlight as it travels to take on Basha (5-0, No. 2 (in The Republic's Open Division), which will have three Eastmark transfers become eligible. Basha went 10-0 last year before losing its only game in the Open playoffs to Liberty, 38-20.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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