It was proven once again Friday night: Football can be a frighteningly fickle game.
With exactly six minutes remaining and No. 10 Desert Ridge leading No. 3 Desert Vista by less than a touchdown, Thunder quarterback Hunter Rodriguez lofted a sharp, slightly-arced spiral over the top of the Jaguar defense, intended for sure-handed wide receiver Shaw Loomer.
As Loomer’s slant route took him exactly to the point Rodriguez’s throw took its descent back to earth, there wouldn’t be a single Desert Ridge defender within eight yards in any direction.
A completion – a sure-fire catch-and-run touchdown – would have put Desert Vista up by a field goal, and squarely in the driver’s seat with time quickly closing in.
But as the final score – a 41-17 victory for Desert Ridge – suggests, the catch wasn’t made. It fell to the Mesquite High School turf, and the Thunder gave the ball back to the Jaguars a few plays later.
Desert Vista didn’t score again. Desert Ridge did, three more times, in fact. And as a result, the Jaguars, will be playing in the Class 5A-Division I state championship match for the first time in school history when they face perennial juggernaut Chandler Hamilton on Dec. 13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Desert Vista senior Sean Coffinger said firmly after the game that he and his teammates weren’t about to put blame on their “brother” for the loss.
“He bounces right back,” Coffinger said of Loomer, a junior who caught six passes for 57 yards. “But really, he is our brother. When you see your brother fall down, you pick him back up. You pick him up.”
Echoing coach Dan Hinds, Coffinger reiterated that such a play didn’t lose the game for Desert Vista as much as it didn’t win it for Desert Ridge.
But that doesn’t mean that just as the momentum pendulum was about to swing in the Thunder’s direction, the needle didn’t peg itself the other way in favor of the Jaguars.
One of the odd twists of that particular play: It was the game’s greatest hero who was, in many respects, self-admittedly responsible for Loomer being so open.
“We had a blown coverage and he was wide open. My heart just sunk,” said two-way star Jordan Becerra, who ran for 239 yards and two touchdowns at the quarterback spot, and also flanked Loomer much of the night on defense at cornerback. “Me and the safety got mixed up on that and had a little miscommunication. We got really lucky that he didn’t catch that ball.”
In the grander scheme, the fact that Desert Ridge’s Becerra was even in position to be the star of stars in this manner (alongside running back Joey Counts and his 171 yards rushing and two scores), for a game of this magnitude yet again shows football’s capricious personality.
It was just two seasons ago that a Desert Ridge quarterback – Kevin Pantastico – threw for a staggering 595 yards in a single game, and it was just last season that Pantastico threw for more passing yards than any quarterback in the state, topping the 3,000 yard mark for the 2009 campaign. Becerra, listed as a wide receiver and defensive back on the Desert Ridge roster even as he's taken plenty of snaps behind center this season, led that 2009 Jaguar team in rushing with a productive 497 yards.
It was also three months ago that vaunted Highland transfer Parker Rasmussen started the season as the Jaguars quarterback, throwing for six touchdowns against Corona del Sol in the second game of the season.
Rasmussen was sidelined midway through the season with a knee injury, making way for Becerra’s turn under center – and Desert Ridge’s turn at a markedly different offensive scheme.
While Rasmussen has been back to play at times since – he saw the field a handful of snaps against Desert Vista, but didn’t throw – it’s been Becerra leading the charge to the state championship for the Jaguars.
In the process, the same coaching staff that saw its quarterback throw for 600 yards one Friday night two seasons ago had its team run the ball 52 times Friday, compared to just nine pass attempts.
“No,” was the simple answer given by head coach Jeremy Hathcock when asked postgame if he thought, after everything his team faced early on this season, that Desert Ridge would be able to keep pace with almost an entirely varied offensive approach. “I believed in our guys and I thought we’d step up and do well, but eight wins in a row and scoring 40 points a game is ridiculous.”
But, after all, ridiculous – or bizarre, or unpredictable, or any other word that describes football’s erratic context – might just be the nature of the game.