Sunnyside receiver Chris Howard says facing a perennial state playoff team helps give the Blue Devils a feel for where they stand on the state level and "how we'll play at that level" in the playoffs.

BENJIE SANDERS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Devils eager to face top talent


By Chris Davis
Special to the Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.17.2009

If there's one mantra that Sunnyside football coach Richard Sanchez expects his teams to live by year in and year out, it is continual improvement.

Each practice, each quarter, each game serves as an opportunity to prepare for the culmination of what his teams play for each year — an appearance in the state title game.

With that, comes the unwavering desire to match up against the best high school football teams Arizona offers.

Tonight is no different. The Blue Devils (2-0) host perennial 5A power Mesa Mountain View at 7 p.m.

"We always want to make a run for the championship, and if you don't play those kind of schools and teams that have consistently been in the championship game, then you're just playing mind games with yourself," Sanchez said.

Tonight's game will help Sunnyside gauge the type of team it is and what it needs to do to reach that final game.

Blue Devils receiver Chris Howard says playing the state's top talent in the regular season helps once the playoffs begin.

"We'll already know what kind of competition we'll be facing once the postseason starts and how we'll play at that level," he said.

Here are three things that will be key in deciding the outcome tonight.

A Mountain View rebound

Mountain View (1-1) comes to the south side on the heels of a 42-10 drubbing at the hands of Scottsdale Chaparral — what looks like one of the program's worst losses in recent history.

Sanchez said he and his coaching staff attended that game and beg to differ.

"They're a good team," Sanchez said of Mesa Mountain View. "Mountain View went for it on fourth down just across the 50-yard line a couple of times and didn't make it. That gave Chaparral a short field, and they scored.

"If you take away the field position I think it would've been a lot closer ball game."

As if tonight's game wasn't a tall enough order for the Blue Devils, they will be facing an incredibly focused and motivated Toros squad looking for redemption.

Big plays

In its first two games this year, Sunnyside had trouble preventing big plays for touchdowns. The only way opposing teams were able to score on the Blue Devils was if they were well outside the red zone.

"I think the shortest score against our defense was about 40 yards," Sanchez said. "We gave up three to Nogales, and those were beyond the 50, and we gave up three against North Canyon, and those were from beyond the 40.

"And those plays happened after we had stopped them, and it was third-and-long."

Inexperienced Toros

The Toros began the season with only four players returning from last year's team who had significant playing experience. All of them play on the offensive side of the ball.

However, one of those returners is fullback Jacom Brimhall. As a junior, Brimhall rushed for more than 1,600 yards while leading the Toros to the No. 1 seed in the 5A-I playoffs. As a focal point of the offense, the Blue Devils are well aware they will have to slow him down.

"They run a lot of wedge up the middle," Howard said. Brimhall "is fast and he bounces to the outside, so that's something we'll have to work a lot on containing."

With a completely new defensive squad, Sunnyside will look to take advantage of this inexperienced unit that gave up 28 first-half points to Chaparral.

Howard believes that advantage could come through the air.

"From what we watched on film, I think we'll have an advantage passing the ball," he said.