Basic senior wide receiver Josh Villaros remembers walking off the field following a 42-12 loss to Liberty to open the season. And he didn’t think his team would get another shot at the four-time defending Sunrise Region champs.
Villaros was wrong, as the Wolves (6-5) have flipped the switch in the postseason and play at Liberty (9-2) in the Sunrise Region title game at 7 p.m. today.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the year it didn’t look so good for us,” Villaros said. “We didn’t really take into consideration that (Liberty) is a top team in the valley. We were just down on ourselves, saying, ‘We’re not going to do anything.’ Then come playoffs, everybody knew this was our last chance to do something big. So we just stepped it up then and tried to make something happen.”
The Wolves certainly have, ousting the Northeast League’s No. 1 seed, Canyon Springs, 28-17 in the opening round, then eliminating Las Vegas 42-32 last week to move into the region title game for the first time since 2009.
“We realized the team we can be,” junior quarterback Aeneas McAllister said. “(We realized) the team we can be and the fire that we have now in the playoffs.”
Villaros and McAllister have been front and center in leading Basic’s playoff surge. Villaros has caught 13 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason, and added a 61-yard TD run against Canyon Springs in his only carry of the season.
McAllister is coming off what is probably his best game of the season. He completed 15 of 19 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns against Las Vegas and added 41 yards and a TD on the ground.
“Tank’s actually improving every week,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said. “He’s getting better and better and more comfortable being quarterback.”
McAllister said it took some time for the team to come together, but he knows one thing that is different now.
“Group chemistry,” McAllister said. “Chemistry on the offense, and we’ve found out what the source of our offense is.”
More often than not, that source is Villaros, who has caught 42 passes for 800 yards and 11 TDs this season.
“He’s a great player,” McAllister said. “I feel like if he’s on a roll, I’m on a roll. And the offense is moving if he’s on a roll.”
Keeping the offense moving will be one of Basic’s most difficult tasks against Liberty. The Patriots have allowed an average of 14.2 points this season.
“They’re tough, they’re big, they’re physical,” Cahill said. “We just have to play our game. We can’t get out of what we do because of what they do. We’re going to try to run the ball, we’re going to try to be physical and throw the ball in spots we think will be open and try to control the clock.”
Liberty has done an outstanding job of controlling the clock in the postseason, as it has leaned more heavily on its running game. The Patriots have rushed for 528 yards in two postseason games, and Villaros knows the defense will have to be better against the run this week. Basic allowed 191 rushing yards to Las Vegas last week, including 174 yards to Dante Ortiz, who hadn’t carried the ball all season.
“For the most part, we’re trying to improve our defense,” said Villaros, who also plays safety. “Last week it was kind of sloppy. I think we were playing against their fourth-string running back, and he carried for (174) yards. If we play like that, then Liberty’s going to run all over us.”
Cahill is confident his team can compete with Liberty and hopes the Wolves are continuing to get better.
“We started with a young team, and we had a lot of growing pains,” Cahill said. “But luckily we started figuring it out at the right time.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at email@example.com or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.