D.E. to face familiar foe in quarters
Desert Edge and Surprise Shadow Ridge are becoming quite familiar with one another.
The two Division III football teams square off for a fourth time in the last two years, this meeting coming at 7 tonight in the state quarterfinals. Desert Edge has hosted all four encounters.
“It’s tough to play someone that many times,” Desert Edge coach Rich Wellbrock said. “The toughest part is it’s all a guessing game of where they make adjustments, where we make adjustments. We’ve played them so many times, they have their strengths, and we’re still going to see them try to do those things, but on the other side of it they’re going to make some adjustments, so it’s just kind of a guessing game of where they’re going to adjust. I’m sure they’re doing the same thing, trying to figure out where we’re going to have some wrinkles.”
The No. 3 Scorpions beat sixth-seeded Shadow Ridge 63-28 on Sept. 20. Last year, Desert Edge won 38-17 in the regular season, and again four weeks later in the opening round of the playoffs, 49-9.
Despite giving up 28 points to the Stallions last time around, Wellbrock is confident with his defense. They’ve been on the field so much this year that allowing points is inevitably going to happen.
“The one difficult thing for our defense is their number of possessions has almost doubled this year than any year past, and in high school football, that’s difficult,” Wellbrock said.
Desert Edge’s offense is so potent that oftentimes it doesn’t take much time off the clock when finding the end zone.
“When you double the number of possessions, there’s more opportunities for the other team to score,” Wellbrock said. “I think our defense has been playing well, obviously they need to get better in some areas, but I think overall they’ve had a very good season.”
Shadow Ridge (9-2) advanced to the quarterfinals with a 51-41 win over Tucson Catalina Foothills in the opening round.
Desert Edge (11-0) moved on by trouncing Phoenix Thunderbird, 56-26. A 21-point first quarter helped in the assault.
“We got out quick, put 21 up there real quick, and we were driving to make it 28 and had a turnover, kind of let them back in the game a little bit early in the second quarter,” Wellbrock said.
Despite the gaffe, Desert Edge managed to keep rolling offensively, making it 35-13 at the half.
“Our offense answered every time they scored,” Wellbrock said. “You’d like to knock them out if you get the chance. They were a very hard-nosed football team that really came out and played their tails off. I thought there were a couple opportunities we could have finished the game off in the first half.”
Senior quarterback Anthony Hernandez was his usual sharp self, completing 39 of 46 passing attempts for 440 yards and five touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
A majority of those yards went to Jordan Jackson, who had his biggest receiving output of the season. He caught 15 balls for 194 yards and three scores.
“Not in the box score is how well Tyler Grittman and C.J. Heard blocked on the perimeter,” Wellbrock said. “A lot of Jordan’s passes were on bubbles or short passes, but Tyler and C.J. had probably their best game of blocking, which allowed Jordan to have a great night.”
Elijah Marks added to his state receiving yardage record that he broke the week before, catching 15 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. Marks had 324 receiving yards against Agua Fria Nov. 1 and was named the Arizona Cardinals Player of the Week. That marked the second time a Desert Edge player has earned that distinction this year. Hernandez got the nod when the Scorpions played Shadow Ridge the first time because he threw eight touchdown passes.
In addition to the big passing night Desert Edge had against Thunderbird, the Scorpions also rushed for 141 yards. Roshaun Johnson racked up 101 yards on 12 carries, scoring once.
“It was nice to see him stick his foot in the ground and get north and south and have a good game, and he caught a couple passes, too,” Wellbrock said. “He probably had his best all-around game, which is crazy to say for a freshman.”
Should Desert Edge win tonight, it would get one step closer to getting back to the state championship game again, this time hoping for a different outcome. However, with that contest still a couple of weeks away, Wellbrock said his athletes are doing a good job of staying focused on now.
“We had a great practice [Monday] morning, which to be honest I was very surprised,” Wellbrock said. “I thought we were going to have to get after them a little bit, but they were all 10 minutes early and locked in and ready to go. I was very pleased with our first practice in our approach to our quarterfinal game.”
Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.