Some 46 miles separates the sites that will play host to determining Desert Vista’s playoff fate Friday night. But no matter the location, one thing is for certain: any team wearing “Mountain Lions” across their chests is a hated bunch for Thunder fans this week.

In a last-ditch battle to reach the Class 5A-I state tournament and extend their season, the Thunder (2-7 overall, 0-5 Fiesta Region) hit the road to take on Mesa Red Mountain (5-4, 1-3) in the regular-season finale for both teams at 7 p.m.

Across town in North Phoenix, Glendale Mountain Ridge (4-5 overall) will go toe-to-toe with Phoenix Goldwater (2-7), also at 7 p.m.

Both Red Mountain, DV’s opponent, and Mountain Ridge are nicknamed the Mountain Lions.

With losses in seven of their last eight games, The Thunder must now defeat Red Mountain, and have Mountain Ridge lose to Goldwater. If that happens, Desert Vista and Phoenix North Canyon would enter the playoffs as the 15th and/or 16th seeds.

While the Mountain Lions – the ones from Red Mountain, that is – appear to be in the driver’s seat and are already secured a playoff spot, the Jim Jones-coached team has actually lost four straight after a 5-0 start, giving hope to a Thunder squad that’s played teams tough week-after-week, only to end up out-manned and out-gunned late.

In recent weeks, Desert Vista has taken Chandler to the wire and scared Phoenix Brophy for three quarters last week before the heavily-favored Broncos pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Despite throwing three interceptions last week, the re-introduction of quarterback Cody Sokol to the Thunder lineup has done wonders for a team that now has a true balanced offensive attack.

But while the offense, led by Anders Battle, Anthony Kereluk and Mike Arredondo in the backfield and Ryne Rezac and Ryan Anderson out wide is hard to overlook, it’s actually been Desert Vista’s defense – despite what the final score has said – that’s helped the Thunder hang in games in recent weeks.

It started with holding region foe Mesa to just 19 points, the Jackrabbits second-lowest point total of the season, and followed with strong performances against Chandler and Brophy.

The Thunder defense has been paced this season by Mike Ingrassia’s four interceptions, Jesse Clark’s five sacks and strong contributions from Battle, Arredondo, Kedric Flanagan and Jacob Puchi, among others.

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