Coronado’s Kjell Henness feels like he’s living a dream. And he’s not ready for it to end.
The senior wide receiver hopes the Cougars (9-2) can continue their dream season when they travel to Liberty (10-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday for the Sunrise Region title game.
“I feel like it should have ended a long time ago, but it just keeps going and going,” Henness said. “And I love it. It gets more and more intense, and it gets better and better every day.”
The Cougars entered the season just hoping to end a four-year playoff drought. Now they’re playing for their first region title. The winner of Saturday’s game advances to the Division I state championship Dec. 1 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“We just come out here every day like it’s our last, and hopefully it won’t be,” Coronado senior offensive guard James Villarreal said. “We’ll work as hard as we can to make another week. It’s just amazing to be one of the last four teams.”
While Coronado is entering uncharted territory, the region title game is a familiar stop for Liberty, which has won the past two Sunrise crowns.
Liberty coach Rich Muraco hopes his team can play a sharper game than it did in a 35-29 win over the Cougars during the regular season. In that game the Patriots gave up three scoring plays of more than 80 yards. Muraco said limiting mistakes will be key.
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes and put themselves in negative situations,” he said. “We have to do the same thing.
“We have to play sharp because they’re not going to give us anything.”
Senior quarterback Kevin Lucero has done an outstanding job guiding Coronado’s spread offense, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,366 yards and 31 touchdowns.
“Kevin is one of the most underrated in town,” Coronado coach Brad Talich said. “He’s been able to really move our offense, take control as far as a leadership role on our team, and deliver the ball to five special kids that we have on offense. We don’t really have the one target, but Kevin’s able to identify the open receiver.”
Senior Brock Taubel leads the receiving corps with 41 catches for 779 yards and nine touchdowns. Lucero’s other targets are Jackson Cofer (35 catches, 559 yards, nine TDs), Cody Mucino (26 catches, 347 yards), Henness (16 catches, 200 yards) and Chris Laliberte (14 catches, 166 yards).
The passing game has been outstanding, but the key may come on the ground. The Cougars managed only 41 rushing yards against Liberty the first time, but ran for 167 last week in a 29-14 win over Green Valley. Continuing to move the ball on the ground would help the Cougars limit Liberty’s offensive opportunities.
“We’ve really got to get our run game going,” Henness said. “That was the one thing that helped us beat Green Valley, being able to get 6, 7 yards at a time and slowing down their defense and slowing down their whole momentum.”
Villarreal said he knows Liberty is the favorite, but he doesn’t have a problem with the underdog role.
“It’s a great place to be, because you’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “You just lay it all on the line and you show them and prove to them you’re the better team.”