When the Longhorn soccer team takes to the Campo Verde High School field this evening (Nov. 4) to play a Division IV “state” tournament semifinal game, PHS will be facing a Blue Ridge squad ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps.com.
Although there is no national championship to ultimately decide a true No. 1 team, it’s easy to understand why MaxPreps has named the Yellow Jackets the best boys soccer squad in the country.
BR is enjoying a 55-game winning streak that is believed to be the longest current streak in the nation.
Also, the team is 20-0 this year and has out-scored opponents by a mind-boggling 118-7 margin.
Some Jacket victories have been sheer blowouts such as 13-0 over St. Johns, 9-0 vs. St. Gregory College Prep, 8-0 against Snowflake and 6-0 against Round Valley and Chino Valley.
Although Payson has never scored against the Jackets, the team has played BR relatively tough, losing 2-0 on Sept. 15 and 3-0 on Oct. 4.
Individually, Blue Ridge has been led the past two seasons by captain and left midfielder Trey Cavanaugh who was featured in an ESPN The Magazine issue as a “Player to Watch” for scoring 53 goals entering this season.
In the Jackets’ most recent win over Payson, Cavanaugh scored a goal and dished out an assist.
While Cavanaugh is undoubtedly BR’s ace, the team has several other standouts including Martin Sovsby, Martin Forsberg and Knoah Broseman. The talented trio has combined this year for 45 goals.
As the No. 1 seed into the state tournament, Blue Ridge is a huge favorite over No. 12 seeded Payson, but coach Chris Avakian is confident his team can pull off its third successive postseason upset.
“They are about due for a loss,” he said.
A portion of the coach’s certainty is due to the Horns’ rock solid defense that has fueled the team all season long.
Avakain calls defenders Israul Luna, Logan Morris, Felix Cruz, Tyler Aguirre, Keith Williams and Steven Tubbs the backbone of the team mostly because the crew has shined, keeping opponents from scoring.
But to win, the Horns will need goals and those could come from Bubba Nielson, Moe Vega and Ivan Mares.
All three were instrumental in the Longhorns’ two upset wins in the tournament.
Neilson scored the long goal in Payson’s tournament opening 1-0 win on Oct. 28 over Snowflake. The score came on a deflected corner kick.
In a 1-0 overtime win over Wilcox the following day, Vega scored on a header off a pinpoint pass from Mares.
Snowflake entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed and Wilcox was ranked No. 4.
In other tournament semifinal action today at Campo Verde, No. 3 Northland Prep plays No. 2 Desert Christian.
The survivors of the two semifinal games play at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 5, at Campo Verde for the state title.
Payson High has never won a boys soccer state crown outright, but in 2002 tied Sedona for the small school title thanks to the heroics of goalie Mark Hillegas who deflected all of the Scorpions’ 30 shot attempts.
That team of nine years ago could give today’s Longhorn crew reason for hope, because it also was a huge underdog against a Sedona squad that entered the tournament with a 19-0 record.
Game time today at Campo Verde in Gilbert is 7 p.m.