Cactus Shadows Falcons
Division II, Section III
Coach: Greg Davis
Last year’s record: 3-7, did not qualify for Division II playoffs.
Returning offensive starters: 7, including quarterback Bryce Kinsler, who threw for 2,925 yards with 25 touchdowns and 23 interceptions last season.
Returning defensive starters: 8, including defensive lineman Mike Thompson, who had 40 tackles, one and a half sacks and two fumble recoveries last season.
Aug. 24 vs. Boulder Creek; Aug. 31 vs. Pinnacle; Sept. 7 at Bradshaw Mountain; Sept. 14 vs. Queen Creek; Sept. 21 at Prescott; Sept. 28 at Barry Goldwater; Oct. 4 at Horizon; Oct. 12 vs. Notre Dame; Oct. 19 at Paradise Valley; Oct. 26 vs. Shadow Mountain.
Aug. 24 vs. Boulder Creek: Last year’s season opener was a sign of things to come, as Cactus Shadows allowed 48 points and fell to the Jaguars. Coach Greg Davis thinks the team’s defense will be better this season, and this game should give a good indication either way.
Oct. 19 at Paradise Valley: Cactus Shadows won a shootout between these teams last year, and both starting quarterbacks return. The Trojans boast Boise State-bound signal-caller Ryan Finley while Cactus Shadows has Bryce Kinsler, so expect plenty of yardage and points.
Oct. 26 vs. Shadow Mountain: The Falcons have a solid amount of starters returning, and they very well could be in the playoff hunt. Last year’s game against Shadow Mountain was competitive, and Cactus Shadows could be on the playoff bubble when these teams close the regular season against one another.
Cactus Shadows football coach Greg Davis does not mince words.
“I’m not shy to tell you about it,” he said. “We had the worst defense in the state last year.”
The Falcons gave up an average of 42.1 points per game in 2011, a big reason why the team finished 3-7 and didn’t qualify for the postseason. Davis said it was a coaching problem. The scheme changed three times and the players didn’t know where to line up and who to cover.
This year, it’s back to basics, as Davis told his eight returning starters to forget all about last season.
“The simplification of the scheme is going to make the kids just play football and not think,” Davis said. “It was paralysis by analysis, and that kills your football team.”
As a byproduct of the leaky defense, junior quarterback Bryce Kinsler tried to do too much. While he threw for 2,925 yards and 25 touchdowns, he was picked off 23 times, including six in one game against Queen Creek.
Even when facing third-and-long, Davis said, Kinsler would try to thread the needle because if Cactus Shadows punted it was likely the opponent would score.
“There was no trust on the other side of the ball,” Davis said.
Kinsler, leading rusher R.J. Anderson and standout wide receiver Kyle Gladstone all return, so the possibility of a turnaround awaits. It is Kinsler’s third year starting at quarterback, while Gladstone missed all but one game last year with a torn ACL but is already drawing college interest.
The offensive firepower won't matter if the defense doesn’t improve, but Davis has been thrilled by the team’s senior leadership and the weight room dedication this offseason.
“We’re so far ahead of where we were last year is just unreal,” Davis said.