CASA GRANDE – Last week, second-seeded Casa Grande Union faced a prolific passing team in the opening round of the Class 4A state football playoffs. The Cougars responded by keeping No. 15 Glendale Deer Valley 24 points under its season scoring average in a 33-17 victory.
The challenge for CG Union in Friday night’s quarterfinal clash at Al Van Hazel Stadium will be clamping down on the vaunted running attack of Phoenix St. Mary’s. The 10th-seeded Knights (8-3) come in averaging 235 yards on the ground compared to just 64 passing.
“They do a great job of controlling the clock,” CG Union coach Jake Barro said. “They’re going to be tough. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
The Cougars, who are 10-0 for only the second time in the 91-year history of the program, are much more balanced offensively than St. Mary’s. They average 209 yards rushing and 186 passing. Center Nick Anaya, left guard Adyn Castillo, left tackle Tino Espinoza, right guard Leland Cevedia and right tackle Raul Marquez Jr. have been integral components for an offense that averages 42.1 points.
“At this point, we know who we are and everyone we play knows who we are,” Barro said.
If the Cougars win, they will host third-seeded Gilbert Mesquite or No. 11 Kingman Lee Williams in the Dec. 3 semifinals. The title game is Dec. 10 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
CG Union overcame six turnovers in defeating Deer Valley, thanks in large part to an interception by Deandray Kelley that he returned 100 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the first half and RJ Keeton’s 301 all-purpose yards (221 rushing and three touchdowns on 14 carries, 80 receiving on two catches). Kelley’s pick six is the second longest in program history behind Jermaine Graves’ 103-yard return against Tucson Salpointe in 1999.
Opponents average just 7.9 points against the Cougars, who have registered three shutouts and allowed seven or fewer points in four other games. CG Union has outscored its last eight opponents by a combined margin of 360-44.
The most points surrendered by the Cougars is 21 (at Peoria on Sept. 10 in their second game) and their narrowest margin of victory is 12 (against Phoenix Sunnyslope in the Sept. 3 opener).
Quarterback Angel Flores has completed 105 of 139 passes (75.5 percent) for 1,997 yards with 24 TDs and one interception. He also has run for 10 touchdowns and 861 yards, averaging 86.1 rushing yards per game and 8.0 per carry.
Keeton has rushed for 16 TDs and 1,029 yards. He averages 147.0 per game (he missed three due to an ankle injury) and 9.4 per carry.
CG Union’s top receivers are Anthony Flores (18.9 average on 28 catches with eight TDs), Kelley (28.6 average on 19 receptions with 10 touchdowns), Demetrius Garrett (21.2 average on 25 catches with four TDs) and Kevin White (10.6 average on 19 receptions).
On defense, the Cougars are led by Jake Sylvestre (11.1 tackles per game, five tackles for loss, two interceptions), Derrick Kuykendall (nine tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), Andon Diaz (eight interceptions), Zion Gomez (7.2 tackles per game) and Gabe Magana (6.8 tackles per game).
Josh Villa is 38 for 44 on extra-point kicks.
The Cougars have punted just seven times this season, according to the team’s Maxpreps website.
St. Mary’s averages 29.3 points while allowing 20.1 points. The Knights advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating seventh-seeded Buckeye 34-31.
Quarterback David Galindo is St. Mary’s leading rusher with 840 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averages 76.4 yards per game and 5.8 per carry. Joseph Beguhl has rushed for 10 TDs and 813 yards. He averages 73.9 yards per game and 5.5 per carry.
Galindo has thrown 59 passes, completing 38 for 481 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Nick Martinez has completed 20 of 30 passes for 226 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions.
The top receivers for St. Mary’s are Andrue Cannon (16.6 average on 16 receptions with four TDs), Ethan Crowell (8.4 average on 16 catches with one TD) and PJ Lewis (18.5.1 average on 10 receptions with three TDs).
The Knights hold a 3-0 lead in the all-time series. They last played the Cougars in 1956, winning 27-25.