Canyon Springs had a lot working against it early in the season.
The Pioneers lost 33 seniors to graduation from last year’s team, and they were challenged with a difficult early schedule that included a trip to Georgia and a home game against a California school. Add a Centennial team that won the Northwest League and a Foothill team that earned a playoff victory on the road Friday night, and things didn’t go the way the Pioneers would have liked.
“It’s been a rough year, but we came in and set a tough schedule,” Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair said. “We played the third-toughest schedule in the state. It was Liberty No. 1, Bishop Gorman No. 2 and then us. We didn’t have a lot of guys that hadn’t had varsity experience, and some of them were sophomores and juniors in crucial spots. We were taking some losses, but they didn’t understand we’re trying to build them.”
It didn’t help that the Pioneers opened Northeast League play against its top two teams in Desert Pines and Las Vegas. They dropped both of those as well. That left Canyon Springs at 0-6, unfamiliar territory for a program that had posted winning records in nine of the previous 10 seasons.
The Pioneers had been competitive in most of their games, such as falling to Centennial 21-6 and a 37-26 defeat against Las Vegas. Even against Desert Pines, a 49-14 loss, the Pioneers had the ball inside the Jaguar 20 four times and came away empty.
Those losses taught the young Pioneers some necessary lessons, and they finished the season strong. They let out some frustrations in beating Mojave 47-0 and Eldorado 48-7, then edged a quality opponent in Legacy 22-19 in the regular-season finale Friday.
With that victory, Canyon Springs earned the No. 3 seed in the Northeast League. They’ll go on the road to meet Arbor View, the Northwest League’s No. 2 team, in the Mountain Region quarterfinals Friday.
“We’ve got great confidence,” McNair said. “The guys feel like they can compete and play at a high level. If they do that, everything will take care of itself. If we come and do what we need to do and execute the way we can, winning will take care of itself.”
What we learned
Foothill is still a tough out.
It’s easy to look at Foothill having finished its regular season with three straight losses and think it would be one-and-done in the playoffs.
The Falcons proved that notion wrong. The defense held the valley’s leading rusher in Silverado’s Aginae Cunningham to 57 yards on 22 carries, and Koy Riggin reminded everyone he’s one of the top signal-callers around with 294 yards and three touchdown passes in the 20-7 win.
Friday’s win was more on par with how the Falcons played for most of the season. They started 6-1, with the only loss coming against a Desert Pines team that still is undefeated. But a 38-0 loss to Liberty started the downhill slide.
Foothill coach Vernon Brown admitted the team had a “hangover” after that loss, and a poor week of practice at least partly contributed to a 24-23 loss in double overtime against Green Valley. The Falcons then closed the regular season by allowing a late touchdown to Chaparral to fall 15-14.
Now the Falcons get another shot at Liberty, the No. 1 seed from the Southeast League that dumped Clark 66-7 on Friday.
First look ahead
While Foothill heads to Liberty for the second time, Bishop Gorman will host Green Valley in the other Desert Region semifinal. Green Valley beat Durango 34-6 at home Friday night, its second win over the Trailblazers this season. Gorman scored 38 points in the first half of a 52-7 win over Coronado.
The Mountain Region playoffs get started with the quarterfinals. Centennial, fresh off its first league championship since 2002, hosts a Legacy team with a potent offense and plenty to prove after an uneven regular season.
Desert Pines is undefeated, and its only game that has been a one-score encounter was a 21-14 win over Legacy. The Jaguars get a banged-up Faith Lutheran team that can hang with almost anybody in the valley when it’s at its best. The Crusaders’ 24-17 win over Centennial early in Northwest League play is the Bulldogs’ only loss.
Arbor View is used to being the top seed out of the Northwest, but it had to settle for second this year. The Aggies will host a hot Canyon Springs team that is coming in on a three-game winning streak and always has enough talent to be a tricky opponent.
Las Vegas’ resurgence from a three-win year has it hosting a quarterfinal tilt against Palo Verde. It’s a contrast in styles, as the Wildcats want to spread the field and beat opponents with speed, while the Panthers prefer to pound the ball and wear down their foes with a physical double-wing attack.
Contact Jason Orts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.