RJ Keeton

Casa Grande Union’s RJ Keeton shoots through a hole in the line against Sahuarita Walden Grove on Sept. 13 in Casa Grande.

CASA GRANDE — Casa Grande coach Jake Barro gathered his team up following Tuesday’s practice and told them what a great feeling he had.

The feeling he referenced was playing postseason football as one of the last 16 of 47 teams in 4A (two qualified for the new Open Division). That’s 47 teams that started practice in July with the goal of making the playoffs.

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s exciting. We haven’t done it in a few years,” Barro said.

In fact, it’s been four years since the Cougars last made the playoffs when CG Union lost to Lake Havasu 30-14.

“It’s kind of a new season in a lot of ways,” Barro said. “The whole year you want to get in, and once you get in, then you try to make a run and win as many games (as possible).”

Like the Washington Nationals?

“Right! Exactly! That’s a great example,” he said.

But if the Cougars are going to take a page from the World Series champions, they will have to first get past No. 12 Sahuarita Walden Grove (9-1, 5-0 4A Gila) – a team with only one loss – a loss that came at the hands of No. 12 Casa Grande (6-4, 3-2 4A Kino)

“It’s 1-0 each week, and it starts with Walden Grove,” Barro said. “Just because we beat them in the regular season doesn’t mean anything, and we know that. We’ve gotten better, and they have too. Now we have to go down to their place, and it’s not an easy task.”

Since that 33-21 loss on Sept 13, the Red Wolves rolled off seven straight wins. They were ranked in the Top 10 of the 4A power rankings most of the year.

It all comes to a head Friday when the 12th-seed Cougars head to Sahuarita, where Barro believes Walden Grove will be seeking revenge.

“I’m sure that’s what they are talking about all week,” he said. “This will be the third time in two years. We know what they do, and they know what we do. It’s going to be who executes, and that’s what Friday is going to come down to.”

Walden Grove defeated CG Union 28-26 last year in Sahuarita, and Barro said the Cougars have added some wrinkles in the playbook since their win in September, but on the other hand, he expects the same from the Red Wolves.

“When we met, we won so you are thinking they are going to change some things or be more prone to change things,” he said.

However, one thing the Cougars have going for them is they are coming off their biggest win of the year, if not in recent program history, after stunning No. 3 Oro Valley Canyon del Oro (8-2, 3-2 4A Kino) 19-17 last week.

The Dorados entered last week’s game with the Cougars as 4A’s third-ranked team behind Tucson Salpointe Catholic and Scottsdale Saguaro – both teams qualified for the Open Division playoffs.

“That was a great win. That was the best win since I’ve been here,” Barro said. “What a great game. It came down to a blocked field goal. It was just poetic the way the game ended. It was such a battle where it came down to just one. Their kicker is such a great kicker. He made a 44-yard field goal earlier in the game, and had never missed and we blocked it. Such a crazy finish.”

The Cougars needed the win against the Dorados in order to qualify for the playoffs. But now they are facing another problem – one Barro has no problem with.

“In a way you are intruding on winter sports already, so there is that element,” Barro said of having to share the practice field with the girls soccer team, which began practice Monday. “Normally they would be out here (alone), but they are good enough to understand where we are at and nice enough to make it happen.

“It’s a good problem to have, but we make it work and everybody is understanding on it.”

It’s a problem Barro hopes will continue after Friday, and he feels confident in his chances if the Cougars play at the same level they did against CDO.

“If we play like we did last Friday, we should be where we want to be after the game,” he said.

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