Usually after a region title is earned, the teams and coaches openly celebrate, but Mountain View was all business after it clinched the 5A Sonoran championship last night with a 21-14 win over visiting Desert View.
They have been here before.
The bigger prize — making the 5A state playoffs — is still not assured for No. 18 Mountain View. The Mountain Lions experienced coming up short last year, winning their last five games — all region games — only to not make the playoffs based on their power rating.
“(Last night’s win) shows us we have to improve more and get better at the simple stuff, with no more mistakes,” said Mountain View’s Varney Larson, who ended the Jaguars’ last possession of the game with an interception off a tipped pass.
“This win helped us, and we celebrate as a team, but like our coach told us, we have simple mistakes that we have to get better at. For us to be in the playoffs, that’s what we need to do.”
Mountain View’s Varney Larson with the game-securing INT. Mountain Lions win 21-14 and claim the 5A Sonoran title. pic.twitter.com/Su5AYJKB5J
Mountain View’s Varney Larson, with an INT late, talks about the Mountain Lions’ push toward the state playoffs after clinching the 5A Sonoran title with the 21-14 win over Desert View. pic.twitter.com/VAJJCFCbBa
Mountain View (5-4 overall, 4-0 in 5A Sonoran) overcame three fumbles lost on the Desert View’s side of the field, including two near the goal line, and personal foul and holding calls that aided drives for the Jaguars.
Desert View (5-4, 3-1) was resilient with its potent running game with the Jaguars’ Dynamic Duo — Serge Gboweiah and Carlos Alvarez — combining for 197 yards on 36 carries. Alvarez had 101 yards on 18 carries and Gboweiah finished with 96 yards on 18 rushes, including a 44-yard breakaway run in the third quarter that cut the lead to 14-7.
“Nobody in the state is going to be more physical than Desert View,” Mountain View coach Matt Johnson said. “They came out and hit every play in our line, with their backers, their O-line, their front.
“So we feel this is a great test. We feel like it will definitely pay dividends since this is a quality opponent that will get us ready for the playoffs.”
Serge Gboweiah breaks for a 44-yard TD run. Desert View cuts Mountain View’s lead to 13-7 with 3:34 left 3Q. Game is for 5A Sonoran title and strengthening of playoff hopes. pic.twitter.com/DfpN3Enu91
A majority of schools in the 5A agreed to the current Arizona Interscholastic Association state playoff format that does not allow a region champion to automatically qualify for the state playoffs. A power-rating system is used instead to determine the top 16 teams.
Coaches and administrators were against the idea of a deserving team left out while a winner of a region with perceived weaker teams got in the playoffs. Schools in 6A and 5A must play under this premise. Those in 4A to 1A allow region champs to automatically qualify.
Mountain View, one of the hottest teams in the state with four straight wins, is not yet assured a playoff spot despite its region title. The Mountain LIons are presently not one of the top 16-rated teams in the 5A.
They are No. 18 but three 5A schools are currently slotted in the new Open Division — a state playoff bracket of the highest-ranked teams in 4A through 6A that is comprised of eight teams. Centennial, Horizon and Higley (teams that all won by blowouts last night) would not be in the 5A state playoffs if the season ended today, which means Mountain View would move up three spots to No. 15.
That would put the Mountain Lions in the qualifying top 16. The win over Desert View should allow Johnson’s team to move up in the rankings.
TD Mountain View — Shaun Buttigieg with the 15-yard run to put the Mountain Lions up 21-7 with 3 seconds left 3Q. pic.twitter.com/PKBqzLrvQf
The concern is playing against No. 37 Flowing Wells next week, which may adversely affect Mountain View’s ranking even if the Mountain Lions win. The same scenario affected Mountain View last season when it finished strong but stayed home during the playoffs.
“Honestly, we’re just taking it by every week,” said Mountain View quarterback Giovanni Ciaccio, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 146 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown pass to Kollins Opoku-appoh.
“We’re just focusing on next week right now. Of course, it would be amazing to take a chance to run for the state title but we’re just focused on next week right now.”
Mountain View QB Giovanni Ciaccio discusses the Mountain Lions’ resolve as they win their fourth straight game to go to 5-4 overall, 4-0 in the 5A Sonoran. pic.twitter.com/TdcShejN4H
Ciaccio, a lean quarterback who is hard to catch and bring down because of his agility, was not sacked and finished with 50 yards on six rushes. The Mountain Lions were led on the ground by burly back Shaun Buttigieg, who powered his way to a 15-yard touchdown run with 3 seconds left in the third quarter to put Mountain View ahead 21-7.
Buttigieg finished with 52 yards on six rushes.
Desert View coach Robert Bonillas, the former Arizona Wildcats tight end who was part of the 12-1 team in 1998, experienced his 100th game as a head coach. His trickery, similar to the Desert Fox, his former coach at Arizona, Dick Tomey, helped the Jaguars cut the lead to 21-14 with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter. Alvarez connected with fellow sophomore Roman Robles on a halfback pass for the 32-yard score.
Mountain View with the 4th down stop. Only 2:54 left Mountain Lions up 21-14. pic.twitter.com/N3hy4QBlNZ
The Jaguars had one last chance with no timeouts left and 1:48 remaining starting at their own 20, but on a fourth-down play, Larson made the interception off the tipped pass to secure the win for Mountain View.
Larson, who also had a 55-yard kickoff return, atoned for one of the fumbles near the Desert View goal line that prevented a potential score.
Mountain View coach Matt Johnson on the 21-14 thriller of a win over Desert View: “We were playing our hearts out. They were playing their hearts out. It was a great high school battle.” pic.twitter.com/4Bzid95deP
The play of the game might be Opoku-appoh tracking down Desert View linebacker Anthony Trujillo after Trujillo picked up a fumble at about the Jaguars’ 10 and ran it 70 yards to the Mountain View 20 as the first half expired. That enabled Mountain View to keep a 13-0 margin.
“We felt if we could get a lead and make them one-dimensional where they were throwing instead of running with their great running backs and their physical O-line, we felt we had an advantage,” Johnson said. “It was a real punch to the gut when they got those turnovers and we weren’t able to hold on to it and get those scores.
“If we’re going in at 28-0 at halftime, it’s a different game, obviously. … To respond and show mettle and to show focus and intensity, and to finish out the game, and win … we were playing our hearts out. They were playing their hearts out. It was a great high school battle.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.