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Green Valley goes to the ground, finds success

A year ago, Christian Lopez guided a Green Valley air attack that was among the state’s best.

And though the quarterback is back for his senior season, Green Valley has undergone a bit of an offensive transformation.

After a nearly 50-50 split between the pass and the run last season, the Gators have become a run-first unit this season, averaging 318 rushing yards a game. The Gators (4-1, 1-0 Southeast League) will see if they can continue to be dominant on the ground when they host Coronado (3-2, 0-0) at 7 tonight. The teams are tied for No. 6 in the latest coaches poll.

The Gators still run the same up-tempo, no-huddle offense from pistol and spread sets. But with plenty of experience on the offensive line and little experience at receiver, Green Valley has become a much more run-oriented group.

“The run game’s been real nice for us,” Gators coach Brian Castro said. “And that’s a credit to the linemen we have up front and their experience. We’ve been able to lean on that and pick and choose when we need to throw it.”

Right guard Carter Nielsen, a 6-foot-5-inch, 315-pound senior, is the most experienced of the linemen. He’s started since his freshman season and joins three-year starting center Tafa Vete (5-10, 320) to lend plenty of experience. Left guard Joel Salakielu (6-4, 320) and right tackle Logan Hughes (6-3, 215) started last season, and Castro said left tackle Christian Smoot (6-0, 280) “played a lot” last season.

“It’s probably the best line we’ve had since my freshman year,” Nielsen said. “We’re all big, we’re all powerful and we all can move. So we’re excited to see what Coronado has to offer.”

Nielsen said the offensive line loves to get the chance to run block more this season. The Gators have run the ball 65.5 percent of the time. After averaging 469.9 yards last season, Green Valley is up to 491.8 despite attempting 11 fewer passes per game.

“We’re used to passing, and now that we get to run a lot, we love using our strength and showing everyone what we’ve got,” Nielsen said.

Senior Albert Lake has led the charge on the ground. He’s rushed for 782 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 11.5 yards per carry.

“He really worked his tail off this spring and summer, and he’s having a great senior year so far,” Castro said of Lake, who rushed for 676 yards in 12 games last season. “As he goes, we go a little bit.”

Senior Brenan Adams (5-10, 210), a transfer from Liberty, gives the Gators another backfield threat. Adams is more of a power back, and he’s gained 562 yards with six TDs.

“It definitely helps,” Nielsen said of having two quality backs. “It, of course, starts with the line. So whatever back we have behind there, they’ll be able to get yards behind us.”

Teams also must account for Lopez, who passed for 3,455 yards last season. Though he doesn’t have as many experienced receivers to throw to, he’s still passed for 694 yards and seven touchdowns. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 183 yards last week against Basic. The Gators have won three straight since a 25-20 loss to Palo Verde on Sept. 5.

“We’ve done some good things the last couple weeks,” Castro said. “We’ve had a lot of guys improve. I think that game against Palo Verde woke some guys up as to exactly what it takes to play at this level. It’s been neat to see.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.

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