High school football
Pueblo-Amphi showdown headlines final night of regular-season action
A region-by-region breakdown of what to watch locally
One of Tucson’s most storied high school football programs is a win away from being back in the state playoffs — but standing in the way is another local power, hoping to reach the postseason for the second year in a row.
Amphitheater hosts Pueblo on Friday night, in one of the city’s biggest games on the final night of the regular season. The winner will capture the 4A Gila regional title and lives to play at least one more week, while the loser will go home until next year.
Third-year coach Jorge Mendivil has Amphi one win from being back in the postseason for the first time since 2010, when the legendary Vern Friedli was still at the helm. The Panthers (7-2) have won five straight games and one of the biggest reasons for their success is the play of senior running back Carlos Valarezo, who has combined for 1,438 yards rushing and receiving and scored 19 touchdowns.
Valarezo and his stout offensive line will be lining up against a Pueblo team trying to qualify for the state playoffs for the second year in a row. Coach Brandon Sanders and the Warriors (6-3) are coming of back-to-back wins and have won four of their last six games.
Of course, the winner-take-all clash at Amphi is hardly the only game to keep an eye on in the final night of the season. Here’s a region-by-region look at what to watch locally:
This one is pretty easy to explain: Tucson High wins and it’s in.
The Badgers, ranked 13th in 6A, play at No. 20 Yuma Cibola for the 6A Southern regional title and would likely fall out of an at-large bid with a loss to the Raiders. Tucson (5-4) has had a season filled with ups and downs but is just on win from reaching the state playoffs for the third time over the last four years.
Marana (7-2) punched its ticket to the postseason last week, knocking off Desert View to win the 5A Sonoran regional title. But the Tigers, ranked seventh in the conference, should be able to lock up a first-found home game with a win against Rincon/University to close out the regular season.
Eleventh-ranked Desert View (7-2) is still alive for a its first state playoff berth but must win at San Tan Valley Poston Butte to stay within reach of an at-large bid. Flowing Wells, ranked 14th, could also sneak in if it beats Cholla to finish the regular season 6-4.
Cienega plays at Mountain View on Friday night with a chance to finish off a perfect regular season and secure the No. 1 seed in the 5A state playoffs.
The top-ranked Bobcats (9-0) locked up the 5A Southern regional crown last week beating No. 5 Ironwood Ridge. A road test against the eighth-ranked Mountain Lions will serve as one final tune-up before Cienega officially kicks off its state championship quest.
Regardless of what happens Friday, Ironwood Ridge (7-2) and Mountain View (7-2) will also hear their name called Saturday morning when the postseason brackets come out. Both might even get another shot at Cienega in the coming weeks, if that's on anyone's wish list.
Salpointe Catholic (7-2) appeared to have locked up the regional title last week, when it took down Catalina Foothills, but the Lancers must beat Canyon del Oro on Friday night to make it official.
If CDO pulls off the upset, the 12th-ranked Dorados (6-3) would win the region instead because they have a better conference record than No. 5 Salpointe. Taking down the Lancers (7-2) won’t be an easy task however, especially if they pick up where they left off in a 34-7 win against sixth-ranked Foothills (7-2).
Either way, there’s a chance all three teams could qualify for the 4A state playoffs, joining the winner of the Pueblo-Amphi game. But the pressure is on CDO to win, because a loss could drop the Dorados out of the race for an at-large bid.
Sabino won the 3A South regional championship and clinched a postseason berth when it beat Pusch Ridge Christian 34-20 back on Oct. 7. But Pusch Ridge could also be guaranteed a spot in the state playoffs – if all goes as planned on Friday night.
The qualifying process used by the 3A conference gives the top two teams in each region a spot in the 16-team state tournament, rather than just the winner. So Pusch Ridge (6-3) must beat Santa Rita in order to retain second place in the region. If the Lions lose, then there’s a chance Empire could move into second place, but that would require the Ravens upsetting Sabino. But the likelihood of that scenario is rare.
Instead, there’s a chance the Sabino and Pusch Ridge could meet in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. Sabino (8-1) enters its final game ranked fifth when Pusch Ridge, last year’s Division IV state champion, is sitting at No. 11.
That’ll be just one more thing to watch when the brackets come out Saturday morning.