No one could stop Taren Morrison this season. At least not through 12 games.
The 5-foot-11, 185 pound Desert Ridge running back evolved into Arizona’s most electric football player this year. He averaged more than 13 yards a carry, ran for nearly 2,500 rushing yards this season, and scored 38 touchdowns heading into Monday night’s Division I semifinal showdown against top ranked Mountain Pointe.
But Monday night at McClintock High school, Morrison’s dream season ran into a brick wall: The Mountain Pointe defense.
“The most physical team I’ve ever seen in my life,” is how Desert Ridge head coach Jeremy Hathcock described Mountain Pointe.
Anyone who saw Mountain Pointe’s 27-9 victory over 4th seeded Desert Ridge would probably agree.
“Our defense was outstanding the entire game,” Mountain Pointe head coach Norris Vaughan said afterward. “We basically left our defense on the field the entire first quarter against the best running back in the state, gave them field position, and our defense still played incredible. (Desert Ridge) got three field goals, and they probably only earned one of them.”
Thanks to Mountain Pointe errors and two early fumbles in the opening minutes, Desert Ridge made things interesting early on. Kicker Landon Whitlow connected on kicks of 50 and 23 yard field goals in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead. But during that sequence, Desert Ridge was held to just 29 yards in 11 plays. After a 13 yard run during the opening drive, Morrison had nowhere to run the rest of the evening.
A pair of long runs in the final minutes helped Morrison break the 100 yard barrier, but the punishment he took in 27 carries was a testament to both Mountain Pointe’s defense and Morrison’s toughness. Most of Morrison’s 27 carries ended with three, four, even five Mountain Point defenders driving him into the turf.
“I’m proud of Taren and proud of our entire team,” Hathcock added afterward. “We were gonna do the same thing we’ve done all year, and run right at them. Every other team has loaded the box, but we’ve found a way to break through and around everyone. (Mountain Pointe) knew what was coming, and I guess they just had the magic formula.”
That formula of quickness and physicality shut down one of Arizona’s most prolific rushing offenses of all time, as well as one of its best running backs.
“We just couldn’t find (Morrison) any space tonight.” Hathcock added. “Most of that has to do with (Mountain Pointe’s) defense.”
Despite the disappointment of Monday night’s defeat, Desert Ridge finished 11-2 on the season. The offense broke the big-school state rushing record, finishing with over 3,100 yards on the ground as a team. It was a record that stood since 1970.
It was also the school’s fourth consecutive semifinal appearance, which has clearly established itself as the far East Valley’s premier football program.
“I love coach Hatchcock,” Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan added. “He’s built a great program in a short time.”