Sports Notebook...with Brian Gomez
It’s playoff time; Corona awaits first-round opponent

By Brian Gomez

Now the real fun starts for the Corona del Sol High School football team.

The opening-round matchups for the Class 5A state playoffs were due to be announced Nov. 5, giving No. 11 Corona a week to install a game plan before making a push toward its first postseason win since 1998.

Positioned 13th in the power points rankings heading into the season finale against Desert Vista, Corona (7-2, 3-0 Central Region) likely will be forced to play a top-10 opponent in the first round.

Chances are that the Aztecs will avoid No. 1 Paradise Valley and No. 2 Mesa Westwood, although No. 4 Mesa Red Mountain, No. 7 Chandler Hamilton and No. 8 Chandler are strong possibilities. There’s an outside chance that Corona will face No. 3 Phoenix Brophy or No. 9 Peoria.

Corona probably stacks up better against Paradise Valley or Westwood than it does against defending state champ Hamilton, which has won three straight against Corona, outscoring the Aztecs 115-13.

For Corona coach Gary Venturo, the power points rankings are meaningless.

“I haven’t really even been thinking about it,” said Venturo, whose team was seeded 14th in last year’s playoffs. “I’m sure maybe the kids fooled around with it and some of the coaches, but I really don’t like to think about it. I want us to dictate what we’re going to do, not someone else.”

Almost as mind-boggling as Hamilton’s success against Corona has been Corona’s dominance during a six-game winning streak, the longest since the 1994-95 seasons.

The Aztecs have outscored their opponents 282-69, winning by an average of 35.5 points. They’ve posted at least 37 points in every game during the streak and they haven’t allowed more than 14 points.

In last week’s 44-12 victory over Marcos de Niza, senior running back Daniel McClendon rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Senior quarterback Blaise Johnson totaled 112 yards rushing and one touchdown and he threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Blaine Irby.

Senior Jeff Sinay returned a first-quarter punt 56 yards for a touchdown, giving Corona a 7-0 lead. Junior kicker Kevin Hager drilled a 43-yard field to put Corona ahead 17-12 at halftime, and Brad Hall capped an energetic second half with a 1-yard touchdown run.

“It’s a combination of everything,” Venturo said.

“We’ve been running the ball well, we’ve been throwing the ball well, our special teams have been doing well and our defense has been playing well.”

The 344 points through nine games already is the fourth-most ever scored by a Corona team and the most since 1998, when the Aztecs blanked Mesa 35-0 in the opening round of the playoffs before suffering a 21-12 loss against Mesa Mountain View.

When Corona beat Tucson Flowing Wells 62-12 in Week 8, it marked the most points it had ever scored in a varsity game. The previous record of 56 points was set against Globe in 1981.

Records aside, Venturo figures that his team’s season could be just getting off the ground.

“The kids are playing really well right now,” Venturo said. “We’re just like ASU, thinking one game at a time.”