Desert Vista could not overcome Liberty’s offensive outburst as the No. 7 Lions defeated the No. 6 Thunder 33-30 in Friday’s AIA 6A football semifinal game.
Liberty senior quarterback Jonah Guevara had five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) with four coming in the first half.
Desert Vista started the game with a long opening drive for a touchdown, but the Lions scored 20 unanswered points to take a lead they would never surrender. Liberty created plays to get receivers open easily downfield, based off tapes from the Thunder’s quarterfinal victory over the Perry Pumas, and struck for long touchdown passes.
“Earlier in the week, we saw their lineup and how they reacted to some of the tempo plays that we got from film of Perry, so we wanted to take advantage of that and we did,” Guevara said.
The teams traded scores back-and-forth, but Liberty took a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter. Desert Vista kept fighting.
“We’ve got a lot of heart, all of us. Any other team, if they were down 19 in the fourth quarter with a few minutes left, they would have given up,” said sophomore Devon Grubbs.
Forcing punts on back-to-back possessions, Thunder senior quarterback Parker Navarro slipped defenders, and made several long passes downfield. Desert Vista scored two touchdowns with accompanying two-point conversions, cutting the lead to just three.
“I had pressure, and I was scrambling out, and just trying to keep my head downfield, keep it downfield and look for windows opening up, and we made enough plays to keep ourselves in it,” Navarro said.
The production from their quarterback was a revelation, as Navarro was limited early, due mainly to an intense pass rush from the Lions. Knowing his ability to elude defenders, Liberty’s defense switched up blitzes, throwing players from different angles and positions into the backfield to keep the Thunder on their toes.
Though Navarro began making big plays at the end, the rush worked enough to slow him down early and go ahead too much for the Thunder to overcome.
“He’s a heck of a football player, and we knew it was going to be a challenge, but I’m proud of how we kept after him,” Liberty coach Mark Smith said.
After back-to-back touchdowns, though, the Thunder narrowly missed an onside kick opportunity, and the Lions had a chance to run out the game with a couple of first down carries.
While the passing game, and Guevara specifically, were on display early, the Lions were able to successfully pick up enough yards on the ground to ice the game. Running backs senior Joseph Forney and freshman Zaccheus Cooper made impactful gains, and the Lions were able to finish off the victory easily with a series of kneel-downs.
“Both of them came up big for us in the end. It was a slow night at first, but when they got the opportunity to close it out they shined,” Guevara said.
Tears were shed by several Thunder players, as the loss signified the end to their season and high school football careers. However, Hinds encouraged the kids to keep their heads high. There was a lot for them to be proud of in this game and the season overall.
“Our season isn’t defined by one play. We got the onside kick against Perry (in the quarterfinal round) and we won that game. We didn’t get the onside kick tonight and we didn’t win it, so it’s not defined by one play,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said.
Liberty (9-4) will face No. 1 Red Mountain in the 6A championship game on December 6. The Mountain Lions defeated Queen Creek 21-9.
DV – Grubbs 6 run (Hauck kick), 5:25
LIB – Knapp 35 pass from Guevara (Pitts kick), 4:21
LIB – Hill 29 pass from Guevara (Pitts kick), 11:54
LIB – Hill 23 pass from Guevara (kick failed), 6:05
DV – Navarro 4 run (Hauck kick), 1:00
LIB – Guevara 1 run (two-point failed), 0:18
LIB – Guevara 1 run (Pitts kick), 10:39
DV – Thomas 8 pass from Navarro (Thomas catch), 7:05
DV – Navarro 6 run (Thomas catch), 3:05