In its first playoff appearance in three years, No. 12 Valley Vista was no match for one of the East Valley’s heavyweights, falling 47-0 to No. 5 Gilbert Highland in the first round of the 6A playoffs Friday at Highland.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” said Valley Vista coach Josh Sekoch. “Any time some of us come down to the East Valley, we know the top teams down here, they’ve got a lot of speed and they’ve got a lot of guys. You know, we knew we were up for a challenge, and we needed to play mistake-free, compete, and we didn’t do that.”
Highland (8-3) will advance to play at No. 4 Queen Creek (8-3) in the second round at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15. When teams met in 6A Central Section play, Highland won 38-3 at home.
The Hawks were led Friday by junior quarterback Taylor Siren, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 256 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and junior running back Max Davis who ran for 95 yards on 10 carries, had 59 yards on two catches and scored once through the air and once on the ground. Senior wideout Zach Schroeder had 118 yards on four catches and one touchdown.
The result was clear early as Highland jumped out to a 21-0 lead after one quarter and a 40-0 lead at halftime. The Hawks scored on all six possessions in the first half — five touchdowns and one field goal — and added a safety on special teams when Valley Vista (7-4) sailed a snap over the punter’s head into the end zone.
Valley Vista came closest to scoring on its second drive, when sophomore Angel Balderama’s 37-yard field goal try missed wide left. The Monsoon made it as close as the opponent’s 13-yard line before getting pushed back by a sack from Highland senior defensive end Logan Willis.
The Hawks added one more touchdown on the first play of the first quarter, which started a running clock for the remainder of the game.
Junior quarterback Burton Delay IV completed 16 of 29 passes for 109 yards for the Monsoon. He threw one interception — a great over-the-shoulder snag by Highland sophomore cornerback Cole Rood. Delay also led the Monsoon with 49 rushing yards on nine attempts.
Highland recovered a fumble later in the game to lead the turnover battle 2-0.
Senior running back Henry Brown added 31 yards on six carries and another senior back, Yazid Tyler, added 20 yards on five carries. Senior Zeke Alfonso led Valley Vista with 39 receiving yards on three catches, followed by senior Makai Obregon, with 33 yards on three grabs. Sophomore Andrew Zacek had the Monsoon’s only sack late in the fourth.
Brown exited early in the second half with an ankle injury.
The Hawks did nearly all their damage in the first half. They more than doubled the Monsoon’s total yardage in the game — 418 to 183 — but those numbers were even more lopsided in the first half, where the Hawks nearly quadrupled Valley Vista’s total — 354 yards to 92.
Highland’s top offensive threats did nearly all their damage in the first half. Siren had 248 of his 256 passing yards before half, Schroeder tallied all 118 of his receiving yards in the half and Davis had 148 of his 154 total yards before the break.
Highland was missing several role players due to injury Friday, including two-way senior Daniel Wood, who leads the team in rushing on offense and sacks on defense; senior Tanner Crandall, one of the team’s top-three receivers and its main return-man; and sophomore quarterback Gage Dayley, who was the team’s main passer before missing the last four games with injury.
“Our guys just came to play, and it didn’t matter. So, that was the biggest thing, that the guys that got an opportunity stepped up,” said Highland coach Brock Farrel.
Farrel said he hopes to have all those players back for next week’s rematch at Queen Creek.
Highland is aiming to outdo last year’s finish, when they lost by one point in the semifinal to Chandler, the 6A champion.
“I think we have the ability. I think we have the comradery,” Farrel said. This week it’s going to take a great week of practice — being focused. Like, last year’s team, when it came crunch time, they rose to the occasion. So, if this team can figure out how to do that and finish games, we’ll do OK.”
Highland won’t have to rematch Chandler, who is in the Open Division playoffs this year.
As Valley Vista turns to next season, it will return nine of 11 starters on defense, its quarterback and four of its five offensive linemen. Sekoch said he hadn’t projected much toward next year, saying he tends to worry about one season at a time, especially considering the AIA transfer rules and that sometimes underclassmen can take the job of a player that had been starting.
Valley Vista’s biggest loss will be senior left tackle Andrew Rumary, who will be playing on Saturday’s next year. He has offers from Arizona, Northern Arizona, Iowa State, New Mexico State and San Jose State.
“That’s going to be a big (loss). We don’t have too many 6’7”, 290 guys walking around campus,” Sekoch said.
The Monsoon will also lose their two lead running backs, Cunningham and Tyler.
Looking back on the season, Sekoch said the team didn’t have any bad losses. Aside from Highland, Valley Vista fell to Pinnacle (8-2), La Joya (8-3) and Desert Vista (8-3). Desert Vista is still alive in the 6A playoffs.
As the Valley Vista seniors concluded their high school football careers, Sekoch said he reminded them that their lives won’t be measured by what they did on the gridiron.
“Just because you lose a football game doesn’t make you a loser, you know. And it’s really, now that you’re a senior, and you’re done, it’s what kind of dad you’re going to be, what type of husband you’re going to be — or wife, in this case,” he said, noting that he has two girls on his team, “and what you do from here, whether you’re going to go to a trade school, you’re going to go to the military, you’re going to go to college — that’s what dictates you’re success.”