The Sunrise vs. Sunset game otherwise known as the Zone Championship is a Vegas tradition that is another thing that has been lost in the expansion of the city. It has been gobbled up in the State Playoff format where it is now a battle that takes place every three years instead.
This season, the Bishop Gorman march to yet another state title will have to go through Liberty before they get a shot at moving on to the Northern Champions. Using the city's oldest campus (Rancho HS) as a neutral site, the game is set for a 1 PM kickoff today.
The Gaels pulled away late versus Palo Verde last week as they walked away with the Sunset crown. Beyond the out of state opponents the faced, they have yet to face a team featuring the balance they feature on both sides of the ball.
They regular season for the Gaels saw them blaze through a division that featured teams lacking the depth and defensive talent to provide a challenge. With one of the best offensive lines in the nation, the Gaels regularly saw games that were over after the first quarter.
In the playoffs, a lineup of option based teams never really challenged the Gaels on the defensive side of the ball. Although the Northwest teams did provide a bit more defense, the Gaels ability to control the clock meant they results were unquestioned in the end.
With 2000-yard rusher Shaquille Powell leading the way, the Gael offense has proven to be the force expected this season and minus a late game loss to Armwood (FL), they would possibly be the number one team in the nation right now.
Junior Jarrett Solomon has tossed 34 touchdowns this season and his young targets Jamir Tillman and Ryan Smith have combined for 1316-yards with 22 touchdowns between them. With such an explosive offense, the Gaels have soared to big things on the football field.
Defensively, sophomore defensive tackle Zack Singer has come of age in the interior while a thicker Zach Hutchins, Marc Phillipi and Ben Guida have developed into standouts versus the run.
With a secondary featuring outstanding athletes in Nathan Starks, Justin Sweet and Jelani Walls; the Gaels are as strong as they come on the football field and have every reason to walk away with another trip to the state title game.
The physical Patriots started the season breaking in a lot of young players and fell early to the Arbor View Aggies in game one but since that moment they appear to have gained strength as they earned their second straight Sunrise Division Title.
With a balanced schedule, the Patriots have seen themselves and shootouts as well as defensive battles where they were forced to grind out victories. Along the way, they have gotten stronger and more resilient.
During the playoffs, the Patriots pulled off an eye opening win over the Las Vegas Wildcats and were forced to survive a late comeback bid by the Foothill Falcons in the championship game.
Junior running back Niko Kapeli has become the Patriots feature player on offense and is currently the 4A's leading rusher this season with 2,243 yards thus far on the ground. A powerful grinder behind a hefty offensive line, he has the areas best6 fullback leading the way in Jordan Kapeli.
Junior quarterback Kaimana Nacua has blossomed into a very efficient player in his second year as a starter. He provides balance and big play ability for the offense as a dual threat and has shown a knack for being in the right place at the right time as a defensive specialist.
Defensively, the Patriots have shown mixed results. Though they are strong with strong players, they have yet to show they can dominate a game. That said, this is a defense that will hit you and they are very physical versus the run. They are susceptible to giving up yard through the air but they also have a knack for making big plays when needed to secure the win.
The Gaels are on a mission to get another title but on paper, the Patriots are the most balanced team they will face this season. Both teams will enter this contest looking to slug it out on the ground though the Gaels feature the quick strike ability through the air.
If the Gaels defense can bottle up the Patriot offense, this will be a no contest but if the Patriots get some momentum, this is a game that could be a battle to the wire.