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‘The dream’s alive’: Gators, Crusaders to play for league title

The Green Valley football team started 0-4 and lost the “Henderson Bowl” to rival Basic, having its five-game winning streak in the game snapped.

A double-digit home loss to Foothill gave Faith Lutheran the short end of the stick in a three-way tie atop the Class 5A Division II Southern League standings.

After Friday night, none of those things will be remembered. Both teams are still fighting for the 5A Division II state title after pulling off road upsets.

“The dream’s alive,” Green Valley coach Clay Mauro said.

Green Valley, the No. 4 seed in the Southern League playoffs, knocked off top-seeded and league champion Basic 24-14 in a league semifinal. Third-seeded Faith Lutheran pulled away for a 43-22 win at No. 2 Foothill in the other semifinal.

Faith Lutheran (8-3) will host Green Valley (5-6) at 6 p.m. Friday for the Southern League title. The winner will play the Northern League champion for the state title Nov. 21 at Allegiant Stadium.

“You don’t ever want to count yourself out, especially when things are down,” Mauro said. “(Basic) won the ‘Henderson Bowl,’ and that’s all well and good, and we’ll see them again next year to play and try to win it back. But at the end of the day, it’s all about who’s still dancing at the end of it. We got a little bit of dance left in our legs.”

While Faith Lutheran and Green Valley are still alive for the state title, neither will move up to 5A Division I next season, regardless if one wins the state title. Basic and Foothill, which finished first and second in the league standings, will move into the top division next season.

“It’s kind of interesting with the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds playing for the championship,” Faith Lutheran coach Mike Sanford said. “There’s a ton of quality and a lot of parity. The fact that we had a three-way tie for first place shows there’s a lot of parity. And then Green Valley was right there with the three teams tied and ended up beating the No. 1 seed (Basic).”

Added Mauro: “It’s interesting how we got this new realignment system that we have two teams that are eliminated from the playoffs that are going up to 5A Division I. We have two teams staying in their conference that are playing for the league title. The 5A Division II is the most fun league. It really is. Anybody can beat anybody any given week.”

Green Valley played three out-of-state teams in its nonleague schedule, including Sierra Canyon (California). Mauro said he wanted his young Gators to see how good programs act in “clutch moments” to see what they need to do when they get in those opportunities in the playoffs.

“You’re able to count on who you need to count on late, and we’re seeing that come into fruition now,” Mauro said.

Sanford said he’s seen his team get better in all three phases. He credited quarterbacks Alex Rogers and Garyt Odom for embracing the two-quarterback system.

“They’ve adapted to a two-quarterback system, and they’ve both improved in the middle of it, which has been really encouraging,” Sanford said.

Odom left Friday’s game with a leg injury, and Sanford said he isn’t sure how serious it is.

Faith Lutheran defeated Green Valley 30-14 in a regular-season meeting on Sept. 8, but Sanford said he is expecting a different Green Valley team.

“They were our first league game,” Sanford said. “They’re just way better than when we beat them. This is going to be a huge challenge. We’ve got to be at our best.”

Taking a break

Almost every classification and division will be in action next week with league finals or state semifinals. But the state’s top division — 5A Division I — will not.

As expected, Bishop Gorman and Liberty will meet for the 5A Division I state title. After cruising in the respective state semifinals Friday — Gorman a 63-12 winner over Coronado and Liberty a 27-8 winner over Shadow Ridge — the teams will have to wait 18 days before they meet for the state title Nov. 21 at Allegiant Stadium.

“That’s definitely unique,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said Friday. “It’s not so much that there’s a bye week in there, it’s that extra time from Friday to Tuesday (of the state title game) that you have to figure out how you want to handle it. You play on a Tuesday, you do a walk-through on a Monday, and you can’t practice on Sunday. So you got to, I think, work backward from there.”

With only Southern schools in Division I, there is no league title game between Northern and Southern teams to be played this week. Gorman coach Brent Browner said it was good for his team to have a bye after winning the league to know what to expect with a break of more than two weeks coming up.

Gorman and Liberty didn’t get to play games against Arbor View and Desert Pines, respectively, after those opponents had to forfeit as a result of a postgame altercation that took place between the two teams after their Sept. 22 game.

Gorman, which usually plays 14, 15 or sometimes 16 games in a season, is still ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps and USA Today and will play just 12 if it does not play in a postseason bowl like it did last year. Browner said “it’s not cool” to lose out on games he said were “important for everybody in the program.”

“These guys have missed out on a ton of games so far,” Browner said. “They put a lot of work into playing games. They don’t put a lot of work in for any other reason. Winning a state championship, winning a national championship, those are great things, but they just — not that they don’t think about it — but they want to play. That’s what they want to do.”

Up next

Here’s a look at the other league final matchups, scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday:

5A Division III Southern League: Top-seeded Legacy will host No. 2 Palo Verde for the league title and a spot in the state title game. Legacy rolled past Clark 45-0 in a league semifinal, and Palo Verde held on for a 49-38 win over Desert Oasis. Legacy won a regular-season meeting 27-20 on Oct. 17.

4A Desert League: No. 1 Centennial and No. 2 Somerset-Losee will play for the league title at Centennial. The Bulldogs cruised to a 39-7 win over Bonanza, and the Lions defeated Mojave 44-29 in their respective league semifinals. Centennial claimed a 38-28 win over Somerset-Losee on Sept. 8.

4A Mountain League: Canyon Springs will have a chance to avenge its only loss, a 18-13 defeat on Oct. 13, when it plays at Sunrise Mountain for the league title. Sunrise Mountain held on for a 36-35 win over Eldorado in its league semifinal, and Canyon Springs romped past Chaparral 40-14.

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

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