11/8/2013 6:02:00 AM Prep Football Bradshaw visits Peoria in D-3's opening round; game is rematch from 2009 postseason
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier, file
Bradshaw Mountain’s David Otero chases down a Mingus runner as the Bears played Mingus High School on Sept. 27, during the annual homecoming game in Prescott Valley. The Bears won the close contest 14-8.
Bradshaw Mountain and Peoria high schools' football teams are back in the state playoffs after brief hiatuses and ready to rumble in the first round of the Division 3 tournament tonight.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Peoria H.S.
Until this fall, the Bears hadn't qualified for the postseason since 2010 under former coach Chuck Apap, who guided the program to six straight playoff appearances from 2005-10.
During Apap's tenure, Bradshaw met Peoria in the Class 4A, Division 1 state tournament. That showdown was in 2009 in the opening round, and the Bears upset the Panthers, 31-28, in Peoria.
Strangely enough, both squads have the same seeds as four years ago, as Bradshaw is No. 12 and Peoria's No. 5.
But will there be a similar result for the Bears this time around with first-year coach Jared Woodruff pacing the sideline?
This evening's tilt pits two physical section winners and automatic qualifiers against one another.
"This is like a bowl game for us," Woodruff said earlier this week. "This is like our Rose Bowl."
If you go by statistics alone, this should be a close opening-round game.
The Panthers, who missed the playoffs in 2012, are the Section 1 champions who own a 10-0 overall record behind a balanced offense.
"In the off-season, that's where it (our success) all started," second-year Peoria coach Will Babb said. "Physically, this is a team that is probably a lot stronger than some of the teams we've had here in the past. The other part is that it's a close-knit group of kids."
Meanwhile, Bradshaw, the Section 4 title-winner, goes in with a 7-3 overall mark and found success with an up-tempo spread offense and a stingy defense.
"On offense, they run so many multiple formations," Babb said of BMHS. "I know they run the hurry-up, and they try to get on the ball and run plays. For them, they're going to try to run as many plays as they can during the course of a game. Our biggest thing is to limit their number of plays."
The Bears struggled a bit down the stretch, falling in two of their last three games, including a 49-7 setback Oct. 18 at rival Prescott and a 46-26 loss at No. 4 Queen Creek last Friday.
If Bradshaw limits its turnovers and plays a possession game tonight, it will have a chance to win, Woodruff said.
"We played an entire game (at Queen Creek), and if we play an entire game this week, the results will be a little better for us than they were last week," he said. "I'll never get down on the guys for a game like what happened last week because they're a really, really good team that we played against."
This fall, BMHS and Peoria faced two common opponents in Flagstaff High and Coconino, and both teams posted similar results.
As for the Bears, they roughed up Coconino, 43-20, Oct. 4 on the road and blasted Flagstaff, 37-3, Oct. 11 in Prescott Valley.
The Panthers routed the Eagles, 35-7, Sept. 6 at Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff and shut out Coconino, 34-0, at home Sept. 12.
"They're scrappy, they fight, and they don't give up," Woodruff said of Peoria. "They've won some close ones at the very end, and then they've won some blowouts as well. Maybe the most impressive thing to me is the teams that they should blow out, they do. They play to their ability."
Offensively for Peoria, senior wide receiver Darius Aguirre (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) leads a spread package-like unit that's similar to Bradshaw's and yet more complex.
Aguirre, a dual threat and a three-year starter, caught 48 balls for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 423 yards on 44 carries and five TDs this season.
"He's a pretty talented athlete, so we want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible," Babb said of Aguirre.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Guevera (5-9, 165), who took over for injured senior QB Dillon Gragnano mid-way through the season, has played admirably.
In nine games, Guevara completed 40-of-71 passes for 718 yards and eight TDs with only two interceptions. Babb said Guevara will start tonight with Gragnano still hurt.
The Panthers also lean on junior tailback Akeem Rutledge (5-6, 165), who led his squad in rushing with 119 carries for 661 yards and 14 TDs.
"They're really athletic," Woodruff said of Peoria. "Most of the guys they've got out there on the field are pretty fast and can move pretty well. They're not really super big necessarily, but then they're not small. Almost everybody they've got is about 5-10 to 6 feet (tall)."
This week, Woodruff called up some players from the JV team to give them a taste of what it's like to be on varsity and, more importantly, to help the Bears prepare for the playoffs.
"There is a heightened emphasis, because we know now that there is no more," Woodruff said. "If we win, we keep on playing. If we lose, we're done playing.
"But we also know that just to have made it this far, just to win the (section) championship - we've made leaps and bounds (as a program)."