It seemed easy to pick the favorites when the high school football season began.
There was nine-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman and Liberty, which won the last eight Sunrise Region titles. Four-time defending Northwest League champion Arbor View and a Desert Pines team that won two consecutive Class 3A state titles before moving to 4A this season were good bets. Even an improved Faith Lutheran team looked like a team with a shot at a league title.
The team just about everybody seemed to forget was Foothill. And the Falcons have something all those other teams don’t: an undefeated record.
Fourth-ranked Foothill (7-0, 2-0 Southeast League) puts that record on the line when it hosts No. 3 Liberty (2-4, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Last year we were very good,” Foothill senior defensive back Jace Derryberry said. “This year they doubted us again, but we just keep wanting to prove them wrong. We all knew what we could do. We have a ton of talent that nobody really respects. I think now that we’ve been showing it, we’re starting to get that respect around the city.”
One of the reasons Foothill has earned that respect is its defense. The Falcons have allowed an average of 7.3 points. Even more impressive is the job Foothill has done against the run. The Falcons have allowed an average of 48 rushing yards over their last five games.
“That’s always our game plan is to stop the run every week,” Foothill coach Marty Redmond said. “You have to be able to stop the run to be able to play good defense.”
The outcome of Friday’s game with Liberty could well come down to stopping the run. The Patriots aired it out in recent years with four-year staring quarterback Kenyon Oblad. But with Oblad now at UNLV, Liberty has turned its focus to the running game, and sophomore Zyrus Fiaseu has rushed for 426 yards and six touchdowns on 34 carries in the past two games.
“Liberty’s got a very good running back,” Derryberry said. “Their o-line’s big. We’re not as big as them, but I believe we’ve got the heart to go against them. Our defense has been arguably the top in the state. We’ve shut down everyone’s run game, and we’ve been able to hold teams to low points.”
Foothill senior linebacker Mateo Monterde said the key to the defensive success has been simple.
“Just being relentless,” Monterde said. “Something that we’ve always thought is if we don’t have all 11 people to the ball, it’s not a tackle. If we don’t have everybody running at all times, including corners, then it’s not a good play on defense. We look for tackles for loss and sacks, we don’t look for 2-yard and 3-yard gains. And any points are bad points.”
If Foothill can stop the run, the Falcons will have the inside track on the Southeast League title. Foothill hasn’t won a league crown since 2005.
“This is right where we wanted to be at this point in the season,” Redmond said. “This is the game that you want. You’ve got to knock off the team that’s been the seven-time division champion to be the champion.”
All times 7 p.m. unless noted
Pahranagat Valley at Spring Mountain, 1:30 p.m.
Coronado at Basic
Liberty at Foothill
Desert Oasis at Spring Valley
Bishop Gorman at Durango
Silverado at Clark
Bonanza at Centennial
Palo Verde at Faith Lutheran
Eldorado at Canyon Springs
Las Vegas at Desert Pines
Legacy at Mojave
Del Sol at Cheyenne
Democracy Prep at Western
Boulder City at Sunrise Mountain
Moapa Valley at Virgin Valley
Pahrump Valley at Valley
Rancho at Chaparral
The Meadows at Whittell
Needles at Laughlin
Mountain View at Lake Mead
Calvary Chapel at Lincoln County
Beaver Dam at Indian Springs
Three games to watch
Las Vegas at Desert Pines — The Jaguars were less than dominant in a 15-8 win over Legacy last week and will look for a better performance against a Wildcats squad that’s fighting for a playoff spot.
Del Sol at Cheyenne — The Dragons can secure a playoff berth with a win over Cheyenne or a loss by Valley. The Desert Shields have locked up a spot in the postseason.
Moapa Valley at Virgin Valley — The battle for the “Victory Hammer” won’t have any impact on the standings this season. But it’s always an intense rivalry and essentially will be Virgin Valley’s Super Bowl now that the Bulldogs have been eliminated from playoff contention.