Wildcats meet mirror image

Many football teams run similar schemes, especially in high school, where only a handful of offensive packages are prevalent.

But the offenses at Las Vegas High and Green Valley aren't just similar.

"We're exactly the same," Las Vegas coach James Thurman said. He and Green Valley coach Brian Castro were in each other's weddings.

"We always talk football. If I yell out a certain play, he knows that play, because they run the same play with the same verbiage."

The coaches and friends will find out whose team runs the spread best at 7 p.m. today when sixth-ranked Green Valley (4-1, 1-0 Northeast League) visits the No. 9 Wildcats (4-1, 1-0).

The defenses could have a leg up with the opposing team running such a familiar scheme.

"I think that's a great advantage for us," Las Vegas senior linebacker D'Anthony Wade said. "We practice against it every day all summer, so we should be used to it."

But Thurman knows his opponents will have a similar advantage, and the coach isn't sure what to make of that.

"Hopefully we can make a few more plays than they can make," he said. "This could be a 0-0 game or a 50-50 game."

One thing is certain. Fans probably won't see many huddles as both teams run fast-paced offenses.

"We don't know what that word (huddle) means at our place," Thurman said. "Our tempo is what we lay our hat on. Hopefully we play faster and harder than everybody else, but they're going to do the same thing. So it could be the last team that breathes, wins."

Thurman knows that the Gators bring something his team hasn't faced in recent years: an early challenge in league play. Las Vegas has battled Canyon Springs for the league title the last two seasons, and the Wildcats were 8-0 before a 22-21 loss to the Pioneers on the final night of the regular season last fall.

But realignment has strengthened the Northeast, with Green Valley being the top newcomer to the league.

"We're not just waiting for a challenge at playoffs. We know that any week can be a challenge because we're playing better teams," Wildcats senior defensive lineman Lahmad Evans said.

The Wildcats lost their top two offensive players - quarterback Hasaan Henderson and running back Farrell Victor - to graduation. But the team's returning skill players have helped ease the transition, and Las Vegas is averaging 33.2 points.

Thurman said he was more worried about losses on his offensive line than the losses at the skill positions.

"Farrell and Hasaan were fantastic players, but they had a good line," Thurman said. "I don't care how good you are, you can't throw it off your back and you can't run the ball one on 11. The line (caused) an offseason of sleepless night worries, but they've done a good job."

Joshua Mayfield (22 catches, 275 yards) leads the receivers, but running back Andrew Moreland (18 catches, 125 yards) and receivers Aaron Zanin-Banks (16 catches, 207 yards) and Vince Castro (eight catches, 73 yards) provide excellent targets for sophomore quarterback Trevor Swenson.

"I think it kind of helps us, because now they're not just focusing on Hasaan and Farrell," Mayfield said. "Now we're spreading the ball out."

Whether the Wildcats can do that against the Gators is the question.

"I've had two other coaches in town tell me they're the best team they've played," Thurman said of the Gators. "Two separate coaches from two different schools at two separate times, too. They weren't sitting together at the bar. So we've got our hands full."

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.