ArizonaVarsity - Week 9: Pinnacle 41 Liberty 17
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Week 9: Pinnacle 41 Liberty 17

Pinnacle quarterback JD Johnson surveys the field and gets ready to deliver a pass in Friday's game at Liberty.  Johnson completed 15-of-25 passes for a season-best 324 yards.  It was also the third time this season he has thrown four touchdowns in a game.
Pinnacle quarterback JD Johnson surveys the field and gets ready to deliver a pass in Friday's game at Liberty. Johnson completed 15-of-25 passes for a season-best 324 yards. It was also the third time this season he has thrown four touchdowns in a game.

Pioneers overwhelm Lions on the road as Johnson throws 4 TDs

WEEKLY BLOG: 10/18/19

After a slow start, Pinnacle showed all of the things that make the Pioneers a likely candidate in this year's inaugural Open bracket. Balanced offense, check. Well-coached team, check. A defense that may not be flashy, but knows where to be, makes hits, and flies to the ball, check.

The North Valley school is just two more checks in the win column from making that preseason goal a reality as the Pioneers traveled west to Peoria and put up some big offensive numbers in a 41-17 victory over Liberty.

"We really want to be in the Open," Pinnacle senior quarterback JD Johnson said after throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns. "We want to play the Chandlers, the Salpointes, the Saguaros, and show them what we've got."

Pinnacle started the night with a punt and a fumble and appeared to be punting again on its third drive in the opening quarter near midfield. But, Johnson is also the Pioneers' punter and he pulled off the fake, completing a pass to Cameron Tardio for 15 yards. The very next play, senior Matt Goodlow showed some burst through the line with a 30-yard touchdown giving the Pioneers a 6-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Pinnacle (7-1 overall, 3-0 6A Desert Valley Region), showed some more creativity in the offensive playbook. Johnson handed it off to junior receiver Nate Hull, who fired a pass to a wide open Marcus Libman for a 57-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion made up for the previous miss and the lead expanded to 14.

Pinnacle WR Marcus Libman
Pinnacle WR Marcus Libman

It was a play that Libman is usually the passer for. He has completed four passes this season (one touchdown). For Hull, this was his first attempt of the year.

"Bringing somebody in else that can throw, they don't really know about that," Hull said. "They think it's a run and I just pop up and throw it. The corner came down, I saw Marcus wide open and got it to him."

The Pioneers made it three straight scoring drives to close out the half when Johnson hit Cade Horton in stride. The senior receiver did the rest as he cut across the field for a 50-yard touchdown.

"I love spreading the ball around to all my guys getting touchdowns," Johnson said. "It was a fun effort."

Liberty (5-3, 1-2) answered with a 26-yard pass from senior Jonah Guevara to Jace Accurso on a skinny post. Accurso found a hole in the coverage cutting inside the deep defender, caught the pass, and took it in for the score.

Pinnacle head coach Dana Zupke watched his offense score one more time in the half. Going for it on fourth-and-six from the Lions' 43-yard line, Johnson kept the chains moving with a 14-yard completion to tight end Shane Sunday. Later, on third-and-five, Johnson rolled out and connected with Hull to give the visitors a 27-7 halftime lead.

"We usually call our coach the mad scientist," Hull said. "His play calling is crazy. It's hard to remember. But if you remember it, it's a good offense."

To start out the second half, Liberty showed it can convert on fourth down in its half of the field as well. Guevara showed pinpoint accuracy while completing a 17-yard pass to Carter Hill on fourth-and-six from his own 40. He got in a rhythm and at one point, had 15 straight passes without an incompletion. However, on fourth-and-seven, the Lions settled for a 31-yard field goal from Shane Pitts.

Liberty had one more chance to draw closer, but turned down a field goal attempt on the first play of the final quarter. On fourth-and-five from the 18, Guevara fled the pocket, and while on the run, his pass fell incomplete.

From there, Pinnacle put it away. A 57-yard strike to Horton was the key play in a drive that ended with Shane Sunday grabbing a pass on a corner route.

Johnson went deep one more time to Libman (63 yards) to close out the Pioneers' scoring. The athletic receiver finished with seven catches for 182 yards. Horton had 131 yards in his four catches and Johnson's four TD passes went to four different receivers. Goodlow reached the century mark on the ground with 108 yards on 17 carries.

"They're explosive," Liberty head coach Mark Smith said. "They've got a lot of weapons. That's definitely a top-four team in the state of Arizona."

Pinnacle is accustomed to high-flying offenses with the likes of Brian Lewerke (now at Michigan State) and Spencer Rattler (now at Oklahoma). But this Pioneers team has a defense to be reckoned with. Going back over the last eight years, Pinnacle has allowed an average of 52 points in its playoff losses. This year's team is giving up just 15.8 points per game.

"It starts with our defensive coordinator, Andrew Hurley," Zupke said. "He's a former player of mine. It's taken three years for our defense to really buy in."

It's not a star-studded unit, but they shut down Liberty's normally-productive run game (92 yards on 28 carries). Going from front to back, Anthony Franklin stands out on the line. The 6-4, 240-pounder had another sack in this one giving him eight for the season. At linebacker, PHS brings Mac Franklin, who can be a game disrupter with the pass rush or in coverage. In the secondary, the Pioneers have Trevor Crawford and Clay Zupke (son of the head coach).

This senior class is a special group that looks to be the best in school history. As freshmen, they compiled a 7-1 record with the lone loss coming to Chandler by six (could they get that rematch in the Open?). Moving up, they went undefeated on the JV team as sophomores and rolled up three shutouts. This year, the Pioneers have a school-record three shutouts on varsity.

"This class, from the time they were freshmen, have always shown they really care about each other," Zupke said. "They don't want to be let the guy next to them down, but they also trust those guys."

Pinnacle entered the game at No. 5 in the Open rankings, and will likely stay there. The lone loss for the Pioneers came in September against Eastside Catholic, last year's state champions in Washington. Pinnacle flew up to the Northwest and gave the Crusaders a game, leading after three quarters before falling, 21-19.

"That game gave us confidence," Zupke said. "We left some points on the table. We came back from that trip feeling very confident and I think it's shown through the way we've played."

Pinnacle has another challenge next week at Chaparral (6-2). It will be a matchup of the future Michigan quarterback (Johnson) against Jack Miller, the future Ohio State QB.

For Liberty, this was its first loss by more than a touchdown since the end of the 2016 season. The Lions have gone 26-7 in that span and entered the game ranked No. 9 in the 6A AIA rankings (with three slated to go to the Open).

The Lions travel to O'Connor (2-6) next week before finishing at home against Chaparral.

"Every week is about getting better," Smith said. "O'Connor is a tough place to play. Every game is going to be a war for us."

Pioneers 41, Lions 17













First Quarter:
Pinn - Matt Goodlow 30 yard run (kick failed), 2:18
Second Quarter:
Pinn - Marcus Libman 57 yard pass from Nate Hull (Shane Sunday pass from JD Johnson), 11:05
Pinn - Cade Horton 50 yard pass from Johnson (Jansen Malvick kick), 5:30
Lib - Jace Accurso 26 yard pass from Jonah Guevara (Shane Pitts kick), 2:36
Pinn - Hull 9 yard pass from Johnson (pass failed), 0:26
Third Quarter:
Lib - Pitts 31 yard FG, 6:32
Fourth Quarter:
Pinn - Sunday 6 yard pass from Johnson (Malvick kick), 8:59
Pinn - Libman 63 yard pass from Johnson (Malvick kick), 5:39
Lib - Jacob Pagliarulo 16 yard pass from Guevara (Pitts kick), 0:05