Thanksgiving plans changed for the Desert Edge football team Friday night.
It turns out the Scorpions will be practicing that day.
However, the coaching staff and players didn’t seem to mind losing their holiday after earning a spot in the 4A-II semifinals with a 21-20 upset win against top-seeded Cactus (10-2). They will face No. 13 seed Thunderbird at 7 p.m. Nov. 26 at North Canyon High School.
“It’s the biggest win in program history,” said Goodyear Desert Edge coach Rich Wellbrock. “We’re practicing on Thanksgiving, it’s that simple.”
It didn’t appear the Scorpions would get that chance at halftime, down 20-7. But Wellbrock said he told his players at halftime they just have to believe and things will happen.
“We told (the team) at halftime ’24 minutes until your destiny,’” Wellbrock said. “We talked about believing. We told them to just believe what these nine coaches have been selling since Day One.”
Desert Edge (10-2) made things happen quickly. Three plays into the second half, senior quarterback Tanner Lung hit wide receiver Anthony Fletcher over the middle for a 39 yard gain that put the ball on the Cactus 13. Two plays later senior running back Danell Miles scored on a 3-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 20-14.
The Cobras received good field position on the kick off after the Scorpions were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following the touchdown. With the ball near midfield, Cactus went with six straight runs that moved the ball to the Desert Edge 16. Facing fourth-and-one, the Cobras went to the ground again, handing the ball to senior tailback Lashunn Norris. He was hit at the line and as he tried to work himself free of tacklers the ball was stripped.
Linebacker Kincade Kiger picked up the loose ball at the 30 yard line and raced down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.
“I saw Kyle Woolard come up and he made it all happen,” Kiger said. “I saw him reach the ball and get it out. My first reaction was to get on it. I saw I had lead blockers on the side and I knew they could pick up anyone coming.”
From that point the Scorpion defense held strong, allowing just two first downs and forcing the Cobras to drive the length of the field. Something Desert Edge’s defense didn’t do in the first half, Wellbrock said.
Desert Edge’s offense also settled down in the second half, protecting the ball once it claimed the lead and eating the clock with its three-headed running back by committee – Miles, senior Manny James and Woolard.
“People say we’re supposed to wear down because we have guys who go both ways,” Wellbrock said. “But we just kept feeding all three the rock and all three of them ran the ball well. They didn’t start real well, but they ended real well.”
While this was Desert Edge’s first state tournament bid, it was Cactus who looked like the rookies. Normally a disciplined squad, the Cobras had eight penalties, including two personal fouls and two pass interference calls. The first personal foul led to the Scorpions first touchdown – a 7-yard pass from Lung to Fletcher to tie the game at 7. It came following Woolard’s 1-yard loss on a handoff.
Then, with Cactus trying to reclaim the lead with 9 minutes to play in the game, a 19-yard Norris run was negated by a false start penalty.
“Too many mistakes,” said Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier. “It’s a devastating loss and I’m not too sure the players are going to hear what us coaches have to say, but too many penalties, a big turnover and a missed extra point is what cost us tonight.”
The missed extra point followed a 75-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Deke Cisco to senior wide out Andrew Zaremskie. On the play, Scorpions defensive lineman Ryan McClain forced Cisco out of the pocket. The Cobra quarterback rolled left and found Zaremskie wide open down the left sideline. He broke over the middle of the field and scored untouched. Kicker Brody Riggs followed by pushing the extra point attempt to the right.
Cactus jumped on the board first with Norris scoring on a 1-yard run. He would score again in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown that was setup by defensive back Scott Mosakowki’s interception at the Desert Edge 29 yard line.
“We gave them two short fields, and then broke a coverage and you can’t do that against a good football team,” Wellbrock said. “Cactus is a good football team.”
The Cobras were still alive with 1:50 remaining after stopping Desert Edge four times inside the 5, including a 3-yard loss when Lung was dragged down from behind by senior linebacker Tyler Hammon. However, Cisco threw five incompletions in a 10-play span and the Cobras’ dream of back-to-back title was dashed.
Not only was this the Scorpions first state tournament run, it’s also a first for Wellbrock and his coaching staff who took over the program in May. Without the help of spring practice, Wellbrock said his staff worked fast to get the kids on board with their program.
“We had to sell to these kids very quickly when me and my staff came aboard,” Wellbrock said. “We jumped into the summer with no spring ball and they bought what we were selling.”
Now, that purchase looks like it will cost the team its holiday. But that may be a small price to pay when the end product is what Desert Edge seeks.