Lakeside Blue Ridge and River Valley have met before, as recently as the 2012 playoffs, when Blue Ridge beat River Valley 49-0 in the quarterfinals.
So when the two teams square off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Phoenix North Canyon High for the Division IV state championship, Blue Ridge will be relatively familiar with River Valley. Most of the rest of the state, however, has yet to get a proper introduction.
River Valley is the biggest surprise of the 2013 state tournament, having plowed its way through to the championship game as a No.6 seed — the lowest of this weekend’s 10 finalists.
Few expected this out of the small school near the tri-state border of Arizona, Nevada and California.
“That’s the way it is out here,” River Valley coach Terry Staggs said. “I think the image is that because we’re out in the West, we didn’t have the ability to play at a higher level. I think we’ve showed that we could.”
It’s not as if this team materialized out of nowhere. River Valley has been to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, losing in the first round in 2010 and 2011 before the quarterfinal loss last year to Blue Ridge.
Everything clicked this season for River Valley, as the team posted a 9-1 regular-season record and outscored its first three playoff opponents 146-33, including a 43-12 semifinal upset of No.2 Chandler Seton Catholic.
Staggs, who joined the program in 2008, spending his first two seasons as the head coach and the next two as the offensive coordinator before returning to the head job last year, sees the title appearance as the final step in a natural progression.
“We’ve been building toward this for six years,” he said.
River Valley has never been to a state championship game in football, so this already can be considered the most successful season in program history.