Las Vegas Sun

May 22, 2019

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High School Football:

This is 40: Canyon Springs snaps Liberty’s imposing streak over Sunrise Region

Canyon Springs’ players rally around each other after losing star running back in first quarter

2014 High School Football

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

From left, Canyon Springs High School football players Melvin Johnson, Ezequiel Lopez, Zaviontay Stevenson, Bradley Alexander II and Kajuan Casey July 21, 2014.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer relive Bishop Gorman prevailing over St. John Bosco in a battle between the two top-ranked teams in the nation before getting to the rest of an eventful week. Does Arbor View still have a case to be ranked above Liberty? Did Faith Lutheran really get into the end zone on its game-winning Hail Mary? Who would win: Coronado or Centennial? They debate all these topics and more.

Life ends at 40 — at least for the Liberty High football team’s streak of consecutive games won in the Sunrise Region.

The opponent that caused the death was the same one that had threatened the run’s existence more than any other team since it began five years ago. Dating back to 2009, Canyon Springs had lost to Liberty six times with the average margin just six points and half of the games coming down to a field goal or less.

The Patriots had ended the Pioneers’ season in four of the last five years. But it was Canyon Springs doing the terminating Thursday night at Liberty, disrupting one of the state’s most impressive records in the teams’ first game against each other as members of the Northeast division.

Canyon Springs 15, Liberty 0.

“We walked off this field every year in tears,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said as a teardrop ran down his face. “I’d say there are some good tears this time.”

The Pioneers appeared to have two options on how to celebrate after the game — to cry or to scream. After they huddled and listened to Cooper list all the college players the program had produced in recent years who had never beaten Liberty, most players picked one of the two reactions.

Senior quarterback Bradley Alexander chose both.

“It feels like we just tore down the walls of Jericho,” Alexander practically shouted as he paced back and forth. “It feels incredible, I can’t even contain my excitement.”

After uneven performances against the Patriots in each of the last two years, Alexander was the primary force that pushed the Pioneers to a new level. He threw for 187 yards and a touchdown on 12-for-23 passing.

Click to enlarge photo

Sun All-City Team member Zaviontay Stevenson from Canyon Springs High School

Alexander had to shoulder even more of the offensive responsibility than normal after Canyon Springs lost its usual star in the first quarter. Senior running back Zaviontay Stevenson rolled his ankle after only four carries, in which he gained 46 yards, and didn’t return.

“Once Zavi went down, I feel like we put a lot more pressure on each other,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t just about me; it was the team. We put it on us. We decided to play for him, and we got it done.”

Alexander threw an interception to Liberty senior Preston Pavlica — who also had a fumble recovery and sack on the night — to end the final possession with Stevenson but was nearly perfect after that miscue.

He completed passes to seven different receivers and led his team inside the 15-yard line during their first drives before and after halftime. The Pioneers stalled on both trips, but Elio Rodriguez was able to boot through 25- and 30-yard field goals.

Acrobatic pass break-ups by junior Jaleel Rogers and senior Kujuan Casey got the Pioneers the ball back midway through the third quarter deep in their own territory. Alexander fired a bullet to senior receiver C.J. Jones to convert the first third-and-long of the possession.

On the second, Alexander connected with senior running back Greg Banks on a short out route. Banks sped past the Patriots’ defense for a 74-yard touchdown.

“I thought the safety was going to get him but as soon as he broke the tackle, I had so much energy,” Alexander recalled. “I swear I ran a 4.4 all the way down the field. That was a great moment right there.”

Anyone watching the game must have wondered where he found that reserve of energy. Alexander took five sacks from Liberty’s vaunted defensive line, including big hits from stars Noah Jefferson, Randy Bukassa and John Groom.

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Sun All-City Team member Melvin Johnson from Canyon Springs High School

But he also hardly ever took a break as a staple of the defensive backfield that held Liberty quarterback Kenyon Oblad to 31 yards on 4-for-15 passing. He joined senior Kasey Allison, who had the Pioneers’ only interception, as Canyon Springs’ strongest players in coverage.

Alexander was also just as likely to wind up in the middle of a gang tackle with teammates like sophomore Tui Vergara, junior Tyson Odum and senior Melvin Johnson. Both Alexander and Cooper credited defensive coordinator Stan Davis for the shutout.

“He’s a genius,” Alexander said. “That’s a great man. He put us in this position by helping us all week.”

Liberty often contributed to the closeness of past games against Canyon Springs with a plethora of mistakes. The Patriots had their lapses again Thursday, including 100 penalty yards.

One particularly costly illegal-block flag wiped out a 58-yard reception down to the goal line for sophomore receiver Ethan Dedeaux, who also returned the opening kickoff 69 yards before Liberty failed to capitalize.

But those were far from the culprits of the Patriots’ defeat.

Canyon Springs was simply better. The Pioneers outgained the Patriots by more than 100 yards. Canyon Springs’ defense held Liberty to nine first downs and forced five three-and-outs.

Alexander said past failures against the Patriots stuck in the Pioneers’ minds all night.

“We’ve got a small band of brothers that came together and competed, and that’s all I’ve ever asked of them,” Cooper said. “This is a really big win for Canyon Springs.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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