The route to the postseason is sometimes aided by a good GPS system since a team hardly makes it without some bumps and bruises along the way.

That's when the GPS (Good Player Substitution) come in handy.

Cheesy as that was, there is plenty of truth to it. Take a closer look at the Desert Vista season heading into Friday night's Division I first-round playoff home game against 14th-seeded North Canyon.

The first few weeks of the season for the third-seeded Thunder (9-1) went rather smoothly - on the scoreboard and the training room - but then the bones, ligaments and other important parts started to get smashed, pinched and worse.

Senior wide receiver Shaw Loomer dislocated his shoulder, senior linebacker Austin McLennan tore an anterior ligament and junior offensive center Cole Preston had a shoulder injury.

All coaches know the projected starting lineup in mid-August is rarely going to be the same contingent throughout the season, whether a move is made because of an injury or it is performance-based.

Those might be the moments the staff is challenged the most.

"Those are difficult and important times as a coach," Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. "It takes a lot of communication amongst the staff. Most teams don't have the depth to do it without talking about it. There is always that little plan behind it. If you are going to do that, you have to realize it affects the whole team, who might need to rest here or there. It can be a challenge."

Desert Vista faces another one this week as senior cornerback Matt Smith broke his leg last week. He is a high-level performer who is also a leader. It is one of those cases where he might be replaced in the lineup, but will be hard to match what No. 5 brought to the field, huddle and locker room.

But the postseason schedule moves on and so must the Thunder.

It is up to players like junior Austin Hicks to step in like Matt Geranen did for Loomer, Cody Peterson did for McLennan and Dylan Fischer did for Preston.

"I was ready to go because that's what we prepare for in practice," said Fischer, who has been part of the defensive line rotation all year long. "It didn't take long for me to get used to playing both ways. It's what I did on freshmen and JV."

Hinds said the somewhat seamless filling of holes follows the program's mantra.

"The team we have this year is not based on one or two guys," he said. "We have a team concept and that's when it is needed most."

Geranen has flourished in the absence of Loomer, who is expected to be back this week. Preston has been cleared to return as well.

"That's a perfect example," Hinds said of Geranen's assertion to a offensive threat. "He comes in and he is ready to perform. You have to hand it to those guys who are suddenly put into action and they keep the level of play where it needs to be."

The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder had two receptions heading into the Corona del Sol game, the week Loomer went down. Geranen has developed into the team's leading receiver, grabbing 19 of his 23 catches over the last five weeks with three touchdowns.

The Thunder are going to need similar performances from Geranen and others as they get ready to take on the Rattlers (6-4).

North Canyon, under first-year coach Conrad Hamilton, has allowed an average of 21.2 points a game this year, with most of the damage coming against fellow Div. I playoff schools Desert Ridge, Brophy and Pinnacle. That trio racked up a combined 149 points (49.7 average) on the Rattlers.

The Rattlers can score as well, averaging 25.0 points, and do it through the air.

Quarterback Tre Grant threw for 1,748 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions through eight games, and four different receivers had at least 18 catches with Jordin Hamilton (32 catches, 7 TDs in eight games) did most of the damage.

The Desert Vista defensive backs have been making big plays all year as the starters have combined for nine interceptions, but with Smith out and Ryan Wagner (concussion) missing some time last week, there might be a crack in the foundation.

Hinds said his group will be ready no matter how the starting 22 shapes up this week, just as the Thunder have done all year long.

"They are a good team," Hinds said. "We have to go into the game at this point like it is the state championship. That's the mentality we have to have from this point forward."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JskodaAFN.

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