MOHAVE VALLEY — The Arizona Interscholastic Association football playoffs once was a common destination for the River Valley High School Dust Devils.
Head coach Jonathan Clark is hoping it becomes a frequent stop for his program once again.
The Dust Devils return to postseason play for the first time since 2016, opening the Class 3A playoffs tonight against Snowflake. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Snowflake. Snowflake is in northeastern Arizona.
The game is scheduled to be streamed live on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/iTALKSPORTS.
The Dust Devils enter with a 7-2 overall record and the No. 13 seed in the 16-team 3A playoff field. Snowflake, seeded No. 4 based on the AIA power points system, is 8-2 on the season.
River Valley is 12-10 in playoff games since 2004, a span that includes 11 seasons with at least one postseason game. Included in those playoff ventures are a state championship in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2013.
Snowflake has been a frequent playoff opponent; the Dust Devils beat the Lobos 28-21 in the 2014 title game after winning 28-14 in the second round in 2013. The teams also met in 2007 with River Valley claiming a 23-12 victory.
“The goal of every team is to make the playoff,” Clark said after the Dust Devils clinched their postseason berth by beating Wickenburg in the regular-season finale last week.
He told the team it was time to set new goals.
“At the beginning of the season, we set three goals,” Clark said. “Play as a team, a family.... Have a winning record.... Make the playoffs. We’ve accomplished all three. Now we’re going to come up with a new set of goals.”
The first “new goal” is to notch a playoff victory. To do that, the Dust Devils must play a solid game, Clark said.
“We have to hold on to the ball,” he said, noting the inability to do that hampered the effort early in last Friday’s game. “When we hold on to the ball, we’re a pretty good team.”
The game features a matchup between two of the top running backs in 3A, River Valley sophomore Zach Hammett and Snowflake senior Brig Turley.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Hammett has rushed for 1,144 yards to lead the Dust Devils. He is averaging 127 yards per game and 8.7 yards per carry. Hammett has rushed for nine touchdowns and has six games of at least 100 yards rushing to his credit this season.
Turley, 5-9 and 192 pounds, has run for 1,041 yards for the Lobos. He is averaging 104 yards a game and 6.7 yards per carry while scoring a whopping 18 rushing TDs while gaining 100 or more yards in half of the Lobos’ 10 games.
Snowflake’s Terren Green, a 5-11, 180 junior, has run for 660 yards and eight touchdown and is average 6.2 yards per carry.
The quarterbacks also sport good numbers.
Snowflake’s Ethan Ramage, a 6-3, 160 senior, has thrown for 1,117 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing 56% of his passes (94-for-168) with four interceptions.
River Valley’s Seth Christy, a 6-2, 175 senior, has passed for 736 yards and four TDs, completing 45% for the season on 55-for-123 accuracy. He has thrown six interceptions. Christy also has run for six touchdown this season.
Snowflake’s top receivers are junior Nick McVicker (26 catches for 368 yards and three touchdowns), senior Welcome Chapman (17 for 226 yards and three TDs) and Taylor Flake (14 for 162 yards and two TDs).
For River Valley, senior Samuel Zegler-Evans had 19 cathces for 369 yards and two TDs and senior Oscar Diaz has 12 catches for 142 yards.
The Dust Devils have been solid in the kicking game. Sophomore Johnny Delgado is 31-for-32 on PATs this season and 5-for-6 on field goals while senior Brenean Gladeau is averaging 37 yards a kick on 19 punts this season. Hammett is a threat as a return man, averaging 34 yards per kickoff return and 23 yards per punt return. He has returned two kickoffs and one punt for TDs.
The Lobo defense is led by senior linebacker Coy Swarts, with 127 total tackles, and Green, who has made 119 tackles from his linebacker position. Green also leads the team with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
River Valley’s defense features senior cornerback Alex Castillo, who has a team-leading 88 total tackles. Castillo leads the Dust Devils in solo stops (45), assists (43) and forced fumbles (3). He also has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Junior Amaro Contreras leads the Devils with six interceptions for the season.
Other defensive standouts for River Valley have been senior Isaac Miller (59 total tackles), sophomore Shawn Stice (45 total tackles) and senior Brenan Gladeau (nine quarterback sacks and four other tackles for losses).
In other first-round 3A games tonight, No. 1 seed Benjamin Franklin of Queen Creek hosts No. 16 Ganado; No. 9 American Leadership Academy-Gilbert is at No. 8 Coolidge; No. 12 Arizona College Prep is at No. 5 Blue Ridge; No 14 Odyssey Institute is at No. 3 Northwest Christian; No. 11 Yuma Catholic is at No. 6 Valley Christian; No. 10 Sabino is at No. 7 Safford; and No. 15 Payson is at No. 2 American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek.