Much of the season, Phoenix Desert Vista’s ground game has thrived with an east-west bent. Changing its compass to north-south Friday night directed the Thunder to University of Phoenix Stadium.
Desert Vista is headed to the 5A Division I state title game for the first time since 1998 after the Thunder took advantage of Mesa Red Mountain miscues to post a muddy 14-7 victory over the Mountain Lions at Chandler High School.
Desert Vista celebrated by diving and sliding into the muddy mess of a field that consumed many a uniform for the previous 48 minutes of game action. Additional goo wasn’t going to hurt a thing.
Going almost exclusively to junior running backs Marcus Washington and Devon Kennard in the second half was the impetus that carried Desert Vista (9-4) to a title game rematch from 1998 with Phoenix Brophy, which knocked off defending champ Chandler Hamilton, 24-14, in the other semifinal. Washington and Kennard entered the game as the team’s fifth- and fourth-leading rushers.
“We are fortunate to have a stable of backs,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “We decided we needed to go with a mudder. That was Marcus.”
Washington, who is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, scored late in the first half to tie the game 7-7 on a 32-yard run. He also ripped off a 24-yarder on third-and-14 on the Thunder’s only third-period possession that kept the drive from being a three-and-out. It turned out to be a 15-play, 75-yard march that ate up eight minutes of play. Kennard (6-4, 235) did the scoring honors on a tough 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 1:46 left in the quarter for the winning tally. Washington finished with 97 yards on 15 carries and Kennard added 44 on 13 attempts.
Red Mountain fumbled eight times in the game and lost two. The lost fumbles were critical enough since both were deep in Desert Vista territory. The last three occurred on center-quarterback exchanges and were successive in the game’s final 90 seconds, with Red Mountain driving at the Thunder 25. Those snuffed out the last threat by Red Mountain and put an end to the Mountain Lions’ 10-3 season.
“The weather hurt us more than it did them,” Red Mountain coach Jim Jones said. “The fumbles hurt. We had more trouble hanging on to the ball than they did. It came down in to a situation where there wasn’t a heck of a lot you could do as a coach but sit back.”
Red Mountain had plenty go its way early, but was unable to capitalize and came away with just seven points.
An interception by Red Mountain’s Josh Lunsford set the Mountain Lions up at Desert Vista’s 11. Quarterback Taylor Perkins scored on a sneak three plays later for a 7-0 lead with 6:51 left in the opening period.
A 13-yard run by Washington on third-and-12 netted the Thunder a first down. On the next play Washington broke a tackle and raced for the game-tying score.