As much as No. 4-seeded Desert Ridge is trying the “lie in the weeds” approach during these football playoffs – after all, everyone’s talking about No. 1 Mountain Pointe, No. 2 Chandler and No. 3 Hamilton – it might not last.
Unofficially, the Jaguars are at 4,000 yards rushing this season, according to MaxPreps.com. The “big-school” state record is 4,280 set by Tucson High in 1970 (Lakeside Blue Ridge owns the state record with 5,337 as a Class 3A school in 1994).
The season junior RB Taren Morrison is having (2,112 yards, 33 touchdowns) has been chronicled, but another junior has made a significant difference: Justin Irby.
The passing game – which wasn’t going to dominate but could have been a bigger part of the Jaguars’ offense when the season began, hasn’t been needed. In his recovery from major knee surgery suffered late in last year’s playoffs, junior Tarek Morrison has thrown 34 passes this season. The Jaguars also lost their best receiver, E.J. McClanahan, for the season in September.
Desert Ridge hasn’t suffered without an aerial attack so far, and reasons behind this can be traced to not only the offensive line, but the Jaguars’ using Irby as a compliment to Taren Morrison.
Also a junior, Irby has 675 yards rushing, seven touchdowns and averages 9.4 yards per carry. His workload has increased since early October, around the time another running back, Danny Siamau, was injured. It’s given Taren Morrison a break, and, in the wake of a minimal passing game, provided a running-game wrinkle for opposing defenses to game plan and defend on the spot.
Irby’s rushed for 100 yards in four of the past five games.
“All those things combined we had to find a few more options,” Jaguars coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “His shiftiness and elusiveness, quickness and vision, it’s been amazing to have two kids who can do that, even if he doesn’t have Taren’s pure speed.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.