Sierra Vista ran through opposing defenses like they were tissue paper in the regular season.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Mountain Lions encountered something more like a brick wall. Legacy totally shut down the Sierra Vista rushing offense, not allowing a single run of more than seven yards until late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
The Longhorns’ defensive dominance helped them advance to the second round of the Sunset regional playoffs with a 49-21 victory over the host Mountain Lions on Friday night.
“We take pride in stopping the run,” Legacy senior linebacker Amere Foster said. “We preached all season, ‘stop the run, win the game.’ That’s what we went out and did.”
Legacy’s defense got in on the scoring too. Foster scored the prettiest of the Longhorns’ three defensive touchdowns when he intercepted a Sierra Vista screen pass with one-hand and returned it 20 yards early in the fourth quarter.
Kenneth Holbert and Ja’Vontay Hill had fumble recoveries returned for touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters, respectively. In total, the Longhorns forced five turnovers including another Hill fumble recovery in the second quarter that gave the offense a short field.
Senior quarterback Roberto Valenzuela ran in an 8-yard touchdown seconds before halftime to put Legacy ahead 21-7.
“We always try to compete at practice to see who’s better, offense or defense,” Foster grinned. “I feel like the defense kind of took this one tonight.”
The offense had its moments, though. On the Longhorns’ first play from scrimmage, Valenzuela threw a tight spiral to Davick Clark for a 59-yard touchdown pass.
Sierra Vista answered in its next drive when quarterback Trevor Gentner found running back Bryan LaGrange, who had all three of the Mountain Lions’ touchdowns, for a 20-yard touchdown pass. That would be the last successful Spring Valley drive for more than two quarters.
Legacy switched up its approach in the second half, leaning heavily on running back Aubrey Washington, who got the offense moving. Washington finished with 14 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown.
“At halftime, I wanted to go with a completely different situation,” Legacy coach John Isola said. “But I just said to myself, ‘We haven’t run the I-spread yet. Let me test it and see if they can stop us going right at them.’ So I just switched and called it and he chunked it so I said, ‘All right then there’s no reason to not do it again.’”
Most of what kept Sierra Vista in the game — it cut the lead to 28-14 going into the fourth quarter — was a recurring penalty problem for Legacy. The Longhorns racked up 125 yards on 11 infractions.
“That’s very frustrating as a coach because we don’t coach them that way,” Isola said. “I don’t know why it took place but that has to be fixed. I think they’ll take care of it because they know who their next opponent is.”
Legacy’s opponent for the right to reach the regional championship game is Arbor View, the Battle of the Bulls rival that has won eight straight in the series. Isola was enthused by how the Longhorns played the Aggies in a 28-14 loss earlier this season but won’t take solace in anything but a victory next Thursday.
“We felt in that first game, even in the stats, we were the better team,” he said. “But they won the game, and listen, they haven’t lost a game in four years in the Northwest so OK, they’re the better team until someone beats them.”