PEORIA, Arizona-Good things come to those who wait, right?
Not in this case as week three of the high school football season pits local rivals Liberty Lions (2-0) against the Sunrise Mountain Mustangs (2-0).
And if last year was any indicator, this game should be another barn burner.
After not meeting for four years, the Lions and the Mustangs renewed their rivalry last season with Sunrise Mountain emerging victorious 34-32 after a late fourth-quarter drive by Liberty, but it was too little too late for the lions. This year Liberty head coach Mark Smith isn’t worried about that.
“We’ve had the last two games in hand by halftime so we’ve had a lot of kids get experience, but we’ve worked hard all summer so I think we’re in shape to play four quarters.”
Liberty is off to an incredibly hot start to the season with big wins over Boulder Creek and Arcadia, gathering the number three ranking in 5A according to azcentral.com.
These wins have come largely on the arm of senior quarterback Ryan Bendle who has notched 368 yards passing and 6 touchdowns in the two victories.
Sunrise Mountain is off to a similar start with big wins over Buckeye and Casa Grande totaling 111-9, and are ranked fourth in 4A by azcentral.com.
If Liberty were caught off guard at all last year, Bendle isn’t letting that happen this year.
“We’ve done a lot of preparing this week, we’ve watched tons of film, gone over everything, schemes, blitzes, anything you can think of honestly.”
The game may eventually turn into a battle of attrition as Liberty has the advantage in two key areas. Liberty has a 50 percent larger roster than Sunrise Mountain and that grants Coach Smith the extra flexibility of not having to play anyone on both sides of the ball.
The schools are only separated by 2 miles, so the players know each other well. “I grew up with most of those kids that are on that football team, Pop Warner, elementary, all of that.” said junior safety Ryan Puskas.
Puskas is rated as one of the better defensive back prospects in the 2019 class in Arizona and already has an offer from South Dakota State. The junior is also the captain of the secondary, something that he takes quite seriously.
“It’s a lot of responsibility but it means a lot to me knowing that they have faith in me to do my job and to lead them to something that has only been done once and that’s to get to a state championship”
Puskas is alluding to the 2014 Division II state championship that Liberty lost 14-26 to cross-town powerhouse Centennial, a place they hope to get once again this year.
With four teams ranked by azcentral.com in one city one begins to wonder, what’s in the water in Peoria? That question may never be decided, but one winner will on Friday night, and with that win comes bragging rights until they meet again.