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Arbor View, Desert Pines ready to challenge Liberty, Gorman

Arbor View coach Matt Gerber believes everything is coming together at the right time for his team.

Gerber said he sees both sides of the ball playing to their full potential, with the Aggies having outscored opponents 253-16 in their last five games.

Now, they get to realize one of their goals from the start of the season: a rematch with Liberty after the Patriots eliminated Arbor View in the playoffs last season. The Aggies (9-1) play at Liberty (7-3) at 6 p.m. Friday in the Class 5A Southern Region semifinals.

And Arbor View isn’t the only team with an upset on its mind in a high-stakes game Friday. Desert Pines (8-2) will get a crack at host Bishop Gorman (10-1) in the other 5A regional semifinal.

Gerber said this will be an important test for Arbor View.

“We got a big game,” Gerber said. “Liberty’s a big opponent, but they’re a big hurdle for us as a program to get over. For us, this could be a game that is a big step towards what we’re trying to accomplish over here.”

Liberty defeated Arbor View twice last season, 42-14 in the regular season and 30-8 in the postseason. Gerber said in both losses the Aggies struggled in the final minutes, which made the final scores not reflective of how close the games were.

The defeats drove Arbor View to emphasize the importance of closing out games, especially against elite opponents.

“Being in a close game is great, but that’s not where we want to be,” he said.

On Friday, Gerber will find out if the improvements Arbor View has shown this season will be enough for the Aggies to stand toe-to-toe with Liberty and pull out a win.

“For us, as a program, to move to the next level, we have to be able to match (Liberty’s) physicality,” Gerber said. “We need to be ready for it and match it.”

As for Desert Pines, coach Tico Rodriguez acknowledged going against Gorman is a tall task, but he sees his young team embracing the challenge.

“Our kids are excited to play a quality team like Gorman,” Rodriguez said. “They know what Gorman is, they’re a top-five program in the nation. And our players want to compete against quality opponents.”

The Jaguars were thrown for a loop before the season when five players transferred out of the program. In what would be a blow for most teams, Rodriguez said he saw his team grow closer together to fill those voids.

“It’s been great to see our group of kids say, ‘Oh, we lost him? Well, someone else will step up,’” Rodriguez said. “Seeing that resilience in them, as a coach, I’m very proud of them.”

Desert Pines played a playoff-like game at the end of the regular season in a 16-7 loss to Liberty that gave the Patriots the 5A Mountain League title. Despite the loss, Rodriguez noticed the growth in his program to be at a level where it can compete against teams like Liberty.

Rodriguez said he wants to see his players compete against Gorman and not deviate from what’s gotten them to this point. With freshmen and sophomores combining to take up 12 starting spots on both sides of the ball, Rodriguez believes the future is bright.

“You’re excited,” Rodriguez said. “You see the possibilities of these guys sticking together and building something very special.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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