In high school football, a disruption in momentum can be devastating, especially with a league title and the postseason on the line.
But Pine Creek isn’t most high school football teams.
In an odd turn of events, Pine Creek will have two full weeks off before traveling to Mesa Ridge for a Week 8 4A Southern football clash with the Grizzlies.
And if their history is any indication of what to expect this Friday — don’t expect the break to make them miss a beat.
That’s at least how Mesa Ridge will look at it entering Friday’s Gazette Preps Game of the Week.
“We are preparing for a team with quality athletes and we are going to do what we can to slow them down,” Mesa Ridge coach Rob Braaten said. “The two weeks off they’re going to be well rested and well scouted now — they’ll come out and play even better now probably. So we aren’t going to focus on what they do and focus on what we do well.”
Although just six games in, Mesa Ridge has already had a trying season, with three games being separated by a combined six points — including narrow wins. While Braaten joked the wins are starting to turn his hair gray — evident by the white sticking out from under his cap — he also said he likes that his team has found ways to win in those close games.
“What I like is we’re finding different ways to win each week, and good football teams do that,” Braaten said. “We don’t just win one way and this week it’s going to be all-hands on deck for four quarters.”
In the offseason Mesa Ridge had to rebuild a roster depleted by graduation, including its starting quarterback, top running back, wide receiver and an immensely talented defensive core.
But with that the Grizzlies saw the rise of running back Trevon Walker, who after having just 110 yards as a junior, is just 58 yards from reaching 1,000, averaging 10.5 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s a good kid, he’s fast, he’s quick, but the best thing about him is he reads the scheme well and he trusts the offensive line and he’s patient,” Braaten said. “He takes his shots when they show up and he doesn't force bad things, and when he gets loose he’s hard to run down.”
The Mesa Ridge defense, which had 17 sacks last year, has already racked up 13 thanks to a complete effort across the defense as seven players have at least one sack. Faleao Leatiota leads the defense with 55 total tackles including 7.5 for a loss, while Devin Haller and David Garcia follow with 45 and 44 tackles, respectively. Garcia leads with team with 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
The defense will need to focus on Pine Creek’s obvious playmaker, junior running back David Moore III, who last year was just 58 yards from hitting 2,000 on the season. Now with one fewer game to rack up the yardage, expect Moore to be looking to make up for the lost time. He has 785 yards averaging 8.2 yards per carry, and six touchdowns.
“If you try to stop David, he’s going to make you hurt. And then when you put too much emphasis on him they have man two, man three, man four,” Braaten said. “So we’re not going to try to come up with some fly-by thing to try to stop David, we are going to do what we do, and try to do it well. The last several weeks we’ve been playing some pretty good football so hopefully we can keep that going.”
But Pine Creek has other junior standouts emerging in new starting quarterback Gavin Herberg and wide receiver Max Lofy. Herberg’s powerful arm helps to set up Moore’s explosive run game. He has 461 passing yards this season and has thrown for six touchdowns.
Lofy is his top receiver with 239 yards, and also has 101 yards rushing, averaging 12.6 yards per carry. On the defensive side Lofy has 20 tackles and an interception.
“The good thing about playing Pine Creek is you never have to worry about your team being up because they know they have to play ball,” Braaten said. “I want these kinds of games this time of year just as we start getting ready for the playoffs, these are the kind of games we want and I’m excited.”
Pine Creek coach Todd Miller could not be reached for a comment.