Tag Archives: azcentral

high schools

Nico Bayless’ 4 TDs lead Apollo past Peoria

by Jason Stone

Sometimes defenses click faster than offenses early in the season. That wasn’t the case Friday night at Glendale Apollo.
Nico Bayless scored four touchdowns in his first start at running back, and quarterback Jordan Gungl tossed three scores in his first start to lead Apollo to a 57-40 opening-week win over Peoria in a non-division game.
Peoria was playing its first game since 1985 without coach Doug Clapp, who resigned in the off-season, and the team also did not have its best defensive player. Linebacker John Fultz injured his foot lifting weights and said he likely will miss next week’s game, too.
Peoria certainly could have used all the help it could get against Apollo, which racked up 504 yards of offense and scored nearly every time it had the ball.
Running behind a talented offensive line, Bayless was a workhorse, gaining 177 yards on 21 carries.
“The offensive line was opening up holes all over the place,” Bayless said.
Apollo scored six first-half touchdowns and never punted in the game. Gungl tossed three touchdowns in the first half as Apollo led 27-7 in the first quarter.
Peoria got only as close as 13 in the second half.
“We’re very happy about the points we scored, but we’re not happy about the points we gave up,” Apollo coach Zach Threadgill said.
Peoria quarterback Dillon Gragnano kept the game from being a blowout by completing all 11 of his passes in the first half, including two for touchdowns. And running back Ira Rojas scored four touchdowns.
The high score of the game was foreshadowed by its beginning when the teams pulled off back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Apollo’s Joseph Cortez started the season with a 92-yard scoring return before Rojas took one back 99 yards.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 25, 2012
Published at USAToday.com • Aug. 25, 2012

high schools

Transfer QB learning to lead Cactus offense

by Jason Stone

The offensive system at Glendale Cactus has always been quarterback-centered with past players such as Jonathan Beasley, Jon Stoner and last year’s starter, Michael Putko.
But if new starting quarterback Talal Yousufzai has the year most expect, the first order of business might be to get public-address announcers to learn how to say his name.
“I haven’t even ventured in how to pronounce it,” longtime Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier said, joking. “I just call him Yugo, or Yugoslavia or whatever.”
Yousufzai, pronounced You-sef-Za, is now the man for the powerful Division III Glendale program, which came up just short of winning the school’s third state championship last year.
“I just try to break (the name) down for people so it’s easier,” Yousufzai said.
The junior transfer from Phoenix Washington passed for more than 2,600 yards and 26 TDs in 2011 before his family moved into Cactus’ enrollment zone during second semester last year.
But with Cactus’ complex system to master, the 6-3, 200-pounder is still a work in progress, Fetkenhier says.
“He is spectacular in some moments, and then there are moments where I know he’s frustrated,” Fetkenhier said. “The offense will come around. It’s just a matter of when.”
Fetkenhier said Cactus’ defense, which shut out five opponents last year, is clearly ahead of the offense as it prepares for Friday’s season opener.
Two players Cactus is counting on for big years are linebacker Zac Bradley and cornerback Anthony Alcala. Two former offensive players, backup quarterback Izzy Macias and wide receiver Dallas Allen, will play only defense for the first time as well.
With Cactus losing its top three wide receivers last year, Allen’s move to defense did not seem like a luxury Cactus could afford. But Fetkenhier said he has been so impressed with Alex Armbrust, the team’s fifth receiver last year, and a group of up-and-coming sophomores, that he was able to move Allen.
Cactus has an experienced offensive line back, including starting seniors Ryan Kern (center) and R.J. Deande (right guard).
It adds up to high expectations again even if this year’s team is a little more raw than some in the past.
“I’m never going to use the word rebuilding,” Fetkenhier said. “It’s just somebody else’s turn now. If you use the term rebuild we give ourselves an excuse.”
For the first time, Cactus will be traveling out of state for a game. It will play a team from Bakersfield, Calif., in a game in Los Angeles on Sept. 1.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 21, 2012

high schools

Talent-laden Marcos de Niza hopes to win it all

by Jason Stone

Marcos de Niza has been knocking on the door of state immortality in football for four years.
But with six top-level college-bound players on its roster, Marcos hopes this is the year the school finally goes all the way.
The last four seasons have seen playoff finishes of at least the quarterfinals each year, including one shot in the state championship game in 2009. The last two seasons, however, ended with crushing one-score losses in the quarterfinals, leaving the team hungrier than ever.
Coach Roy Lopez has built a consistent winner in the East Valley, and the thinks this team has a chance to win it all in Division II after recent near-misses.
“We’ve worked our tails off to get to this point,” said Lopez, who has lead his team to a 51-12 record over the last five seasons.
The talent on this year’s roster is staggering.
Marcos de Niza’s Priest Willis (on right)
Wide receiver Paul Elvira and running back Mauriece Lee have already committed to play at the University of Arizona. The 5-foot-6 Lee carried the ball only 83 times last year, but Marcos de Niza simply had too many other options.
The 5-foot-11 Elvira plays slot and is a possession-type receiver, mostly known for his great hands. He is coming off a junior year when he made 48 catches, taking 12 of those in for scores.
Not to be outdone, Marcos has another big-time future college player in Priest Willis, a 6-2, 200-pound cornerback. Willis has yet to commit to a college but is making his first official visit next week to LSU. He has at least 40 others, including ASU and Notre Dame, begging for his services.
Phoenix South Mountain transfer Derek Craig is another big piece to the puzzle on the defense, which allowed fewer than 10 points in eight games last year. The hard-working 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker is quick and a great tackler. He will be making his first college visit to Army.
Offensive lineman Richard Becerra has a 4.6 GPA and is drawing serious interest from University of San Diego. And ASU is showing interest in cornerback Josh Kirkwood, who had an impressive showing in camps over the summer.
The big question is the replacement for quarterback Tommy Thornton, who amassed 3,000-plus yards of offense. The battle is between senior Andrew Molina and speedy junior Josh Eckley.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 9, 2012

high schools

Sunrise Mtn. has undefeated season, title hopes

by Jason Stone

Peoria Sunrise Mountain’s football team may have a shocking goal this season.
While most teams dream of a winning season, making the playoffs or beating a rival, Sunrise Mountain is shooting for something most teams don’t ever achieve: an undefeated season and a state championship.
Yes, the same team that gave up 81 points in a first-round Division III playoff loss to Scottsdale Saguaro in its last game of 2011 believes it has the talent and drive to do just what Saguaro did to the rest of the division last year.
“I really do believe we can go 10-0 and win state,” senior two-way lineman Ryan Carney-Ash said. “It’s a totally different team. I think we’re severely underrated.”
Sunrise Mountain coach James Carter
Sunrise Mountain coach James Carter
The team’s nickname is the Mustangs. So shouldn’t somebody be telling the players to hold their horses? Coach James Carter says no.
“I totally think it’s possible,” said Carter, who is entering his third season with the north Peoria school. “There is no doubt in my mind we have the capability.”
So what is bringing on this optimism? For starters, Carter always believed last year’s team was a year away. In 2011, Sunrise Mountain (7-3) made the playoffs despite playing 16 sophomores and not having much of a senior class to work with.
Additionally, the team returns one of the most versatile running backs in the state in junior Elijah Castro. The third-year starter is coming off a season in which he gained nearly 2,200 all-purpose yards and amassed 20 total TDs rushing, receiving and in returns.
A loaded offensive line includes a Division I college prospect in 6-foot-5 tackle Drew Johnson, along with Carney-Ash, a third-year starter.
Most of the skill position players are back, including wide receiver Elroy Masters, who missed half of last season with injuries but is back with 4.5 second speed in the 40-yard dash. And senior John Drago is back as a third-year starter as well at wide receiver and defensive back.
The biggest question mark, however, is who will be behind center when the season starts. Last year’s top two quarterbacks — Max Shepherd and Josh Ackerman-Blake — were the only major losses from the senior class, and Carter will be looking for a replacement during preseason practices, which started this week.
The job will come down to seniors Dylan Touvell or Neiman Sneed, who will battle it out until the team’s Aug. 15 scrimmage.

Published at azcentral.com • Aug. 3, 2012

high schools

Combs coach Reischel lifts team confidence

by Jason Stone

When Marques Reischl left Chandler Basha to take over the football program at fledgling Combs in the spring, a couple of things jumped out at him.
It was apparent that his players needed to hit the weight room immediately, and they needed to learn how to play more physically.
“The first day I was on campus we started lifting,” Reischl said. “I felt like that was the most important thing to get going.”
Getting stronger certainly can’t hurt Combs as it enters its second season of varsity play. The team went 0-10 in its first year and was badly mismatched in most of its games. The team was outscored 518-115 for the season, was shut out three times and gave up 82 points in a midseason loss to San Tan Foothills.
But Reischl’s arrival is making this season feel like Combs 2.0 — a second chance at a fresh start.
“(Reischl) has brought our confidence level back up,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Nathen Amestoy. “I think we’ve already put in a lot more hard work than last year.”
And the team appears to have more cohesion this year, too. Reischl, a former quarterback for Western New Mexico University, took his team to a summer camp at the school in Silver City, N.M. There the team learned how to play together and, more importantly, Reischl said, the players learned they liked each other.
“The camp was a really great team bonding experience,” Reischl said. “We’ve got to have a never-surrender attitude.”
The camp also helped the team get acclimated to Reischl’s passing system, one he helped lead Basha to an average of 254 yards passing per game last year as the school’s offensive coordinator. A year ago, Combs averaged 77 yards a game through the air.
Leading the attack at quarterback will be either junior Nick Trueher or Zane Hunt, who was last year’s backup.
Amestoy is back as the team’s top receiver and defensive back, joining returning two-way senior Nathan Lampa in both spots.
Reischl said three other seniors should make an impact this year: wide receiver and strong safety Leroy Valentine, linebacker Ricky Nealy and two-way lineman Antonio Sanchez.

Published at azcentral.com • July 30, 2012