SUNRISE FOOTBALL: Liberty’s reign on line against upstart Gators

Advancing to the Sunrise Region championship game was among the goals for the Green Valley football team.

And while the Gators are excited to be appearing in their first region final, it’s not the final item on their wish list.

“It’s something we always thought of, something that obviously is a goal on any team,” senior receiver/safety Giovanni Hernandez said. “It’s something that we knew we could achieve. And now we’re here, so it’s a blessing. But it’s not the state (championship).”

Green Valley (9-2) will look to unseat three-time defending Sunrise champion Liberty (9-3) when the teams meet at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Liberty. The game will be televised on KVMY (Cox 12).

“They’re excited about it,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said of making the region final. “They’ve worked hard. It’s kind of something that’s always been in the back of their mind in terms of a goal. We always try to go week to week, but this is definitely one of our major goals.”

Stopping the Patriots will be a tough chore for the Gators. Liberty has won eight straight games and has scored 40 or more points in six of those.

“They’re a good football team,” Castro said. “They’ve got the ability to pass it. They’ve got the ability to run it. If anything, we’ve just got to try to balance up and put our guys in the right situations and match their personnel. They’ve definitely got a lot of weapons.”

Green Valley is coming off one of its better defensive performances. The Gators forced seven turnovers, intercepting six passes, in a 47-34 win over Las Vegas.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys defensively, and they seem to be getting a little bit better every week,” Castro said. “I think they’re starting to feel comfortable with each other. Earlier, we were moving a lot of guys around. We’re not doing that as much.

“At this point in the season, you’ve got who you’ve got.”

Liberty quarterback Tyler Newman figures to test the Gators. He has passed for an area-best 3,399 yards and 37 touchdowns. Deseon McQuaig (45 catches, 937 yards) and Drew Hladek (43 catches, 672 yards) have been his top targets, but three other receivers have caught at least 20 passes.

If Liberty isn’t the area’s top passing team, Green Valley might be. The Gators average 294.9 yards passing, a tick ahead of the Patriots (294.5). Green Valley quarterback Christian Lopez has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,113 yards and 31 touchdowns.

But running the ball could be the key for Green Valley, especially if a rainy forecast proves true.

“Really, it’s about being able to control the football,” Castro said. “With a high-paced, spread team like we are, it’s easy to go three-and-out, and that’s not good for your defense. But when you have the ability to run the football and take some time off the clock and give your defense some rest off the field, it’s always to your advantage.”

Castro said he has challenged his offensive line to lead the ground game. And that unit, led by 6-foot-7-inch, 295-pound tackle Tyrell Crosby, has responded.

“I think we’ve improved a lot in running the ball compared to where we used to be,” said Crosby, who has committed to Oregon.

And even if the Gators pound the ball more than usual, don’t expect them to slow their breakneck pace.

“Because of how fast we do play, it confuses the defense a lot and doesn’t get them in the right formations that they need to be in, and it helps us out,” Crosby said.

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