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Healthy A.J. Barilla leads Green Valley against Faith Lutheran

Braxton Harms ended up taking snaps at quarterback last season for Green Valley’s football team. And there might not be anyone happier than Harms that he’s not playing the position this season.

With senior quarterback A.J. Barilla back from an Achilles injury that cost him his 2016 season, the Gators are off to a 2-0 start as they head to Faith Lutheran (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Gators actually lost two QBs to injury last season. Barilla’s replacement, Kalyja Waialae, was hurt in an October game against Basic.

“As soon as (Waialae) got hurt, it kind of went downhill,” Harms said, “and we had receivers playing quarterback.”

With Barilla healthy, there’s a sense of stability restored. “To have an actual quarterback, that’s really helping us a lot,”

Barilla has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 428 yards and guided the Gators on two fourth-quarter comebacks.

“It’s a sigh of relief to a certain extent,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said of Barilla’s return. “We couldn’t be more happy for A.J. and how far he’s come in his recovery and being able to play this year. He does a good job back there and helps keep us in the right spot in the right time in terms of making plays when we’ve got to throw the football. It’s been fun, and it’s been exciting.

“He’s played quarterback his whole life, and he’s done a pretty good job at it. He’s just been good for us.”

As important as Barilla has been, the key against Faith Lutheran might be the running game. Sophomore Noah Hawthorne rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 24-21 victory over Centennial.

“To keep it rolling, we’re going to need to run the ball,” said 6-foot-5-inch, 310-pound senior offensive lineman Eric Brown. “They have a lot of good (defensive backs) over there, they have a few Division I guys. Up front, we’re gong to need to be extra aggressive and extra prepared to win against them and keep our win streak going.”

Not only will the run game help open things up for the passing game, but it also will keep the ball out of the hands of Faith Lutheran quarterback Sagan Gronauer, who passed for 389 yards and two TDs in the Crusaders’ opener.

“They’ve got an explosive offense, and we need to try to hold onto the ball as long as we can and limit some of that and keep our defense fresh,” Castro said. “Running the ball is going to be real important this week.”

Brown said he never had been 2-0 in his high school career and that the strong start has helped the team’s confidence. And beating Faith Lutheran, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, could signal that the Gators are ready to contend in the Sunrise Region.

“There’s going to be a lot of eyes on that game,” Brown said. “Everyone’s definitely picking us to lose. I think if we win that, that will turn a lot of heads and will kind of put Green Valley High School back on the map where it should be.”

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

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