The Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions and the Phoenix Christian High School Cougars share more than just a predatory mascot and a 7 p.m. kickoff this Friday.
Last season, Pusch Ridge went 7-3, sweeping through the 2A South and notching a region championship before losing to Camp Verde 23-13 in the first round of the state playoffs.
Phoenix Christian went slightly farther, riding a 13-1 record to Northern Arizona University and the state championship game, only to come up short against St. John's 42-17.
This seems like a recipe for an action-packed matchup with statewide implications. However, coming into Friday night's game, both teams are looking for their first wins.
The Lions ended their trip to Phoenix Northwest Christian last Friday with a 47-16 loss, and the Cougars opened at home with a 42-0 shutout by Phoenix North Pointe Prep.
In spite of the opening game struggles, both teams can point to some bright spots.
For the Cougars, who had difficulty moving the ball on the ground and in the passing game, junior running back and team captain Jay Leary was the most effective weapon, carrying the ball 12 times for 45 yards, and adding a 13-yard reception and six tackles on defense.
Despite the score, Phoenix Christian also saw some good tackling from sophomore defensive back Preston Von Hofwagen and senior defensive lineman Zach Rosson, who, along with Leary, led the team with six tackles each.
The Lions had fewer problems moving the ball through the air, as senior quarterback and three-year starter Greg Schimke threw for 288 yards on 18 completions, an average of 16 yards per toss. Schimke was able to count on the quickness and speed of senior wide receiver Trevor Cook and junior running back Tyler Vance, each of whom hauled in a long touchdown pass late in the game — Cook from 33 yards out, and Vance with a 65-yarder.
On defense, senior linemen Ryan Alexander and Christian Weyne showed flashes of effectiveness, and the Lions' secondary intercepted Cougar quarterback Nathan La Barbera twice, holding him to 129 yards passing.
Positive statistics aside, Pusch Ridge coach Bob Vance knows his team must capitalize on its strengths to be more successful throughout the season.
"We've got a lot of athleticism, it's a matter of whether we can get those athletes the ball," said Vance.