Stars lead Hamilton past Desert Ridge - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Stars lead Hamilton past Desert Ridge

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Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 10:46 pm | Updated: 12:16 am, Sat Nov 19, 2011.

There's no denying the importance depth has played in Hamilton's reign atop Arizona high school football.

But when crunch time hits, it's still nice to have a collection of stars to count on.

Fourth-seeded Desert Ridge hung around all night, but big plays from Kendyl Taylor, Jaxon Hood and Blake Kemp helped Hamilton to a 31-21 victory in the Division I semifinals on Friday night at Chandler.

The top-seeded Huskies (13-0) will face off with No. 3 Desert Vista next Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in its quest for a fourth consecutive state championship.

Getting there, though, wasn't easy.

The Jaguars (10-3) scored first, and were within 10-7 at the half. Even though Hamilton jumped out to a 17-point lead on two different occasions, Desert Ridge had the ball inside the Huskies' 10-yard line trailing by 10 with 2:30 remaining. However, Hood blocked a Keaton Cenatiempo 24-yard field goal attempt, and Hamilton hung on.

The Huskies aren't accustomed to playing in close games, but showed once again they can win in a variety of ways.

"It's not fun blowing teams out," Taylor said. "I know people hate us for blowing teams out, so we gave a game for the fans."

The game turned in the third quarter. Desert Ridge trailed by three points and looked to have the ball near midfield after a catch by Jordan Becerra. However, the ball popped out as he hit the ground, and Desert Ridge went three-and-out.

Josh Ralston got a piece of the ensuing punt, and then Kemp found Taylor from 31 yards out for a 10-point lead midway through the quarter. On the play, Taylor's left arm was tangled up with a Desert Ridge defender, but he still caught the ball one-handed in the end zone.

After the teams traded scores, Kemp and Taylor hooked up again for a 36-yard touchdown. On that play, the Huskies audibled to a vertical route for Taylor, and even though two players were there and everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the ball, the senior wide receiver still hung on while falling into the end zone.

Taylor finished with five catches for 109 yards and the two scores, while Kemp was 13-of-22 for 242 yards and four touchdowns.

"We've been playing together for like five years now," Taylor said. "We have a great connection."

Desert Ridge trailed 31-14 with 6:33 to go at that point, but it wasn't done. Running back Joey Counts scored from a yard out to cut the deficit to 10, and Trevor Romero recovered the ensuing onside kick.

The Jaguars drove down to the Hamilton 7, but Hood made the big block to secure the win.

"We almost made it interesting," Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. "If we get that field goal, you never know."

Desert Ridge got ahead 7-0 with some trickery. The Jaguars had only one completion in the first half, and it was on a wide receiver reverse pass from Rudy Jimenez to Rasmussen, the quarterback, for a 15-yard score.

The Jaguars led much of the first half, but Kemp found Joseph Kendall for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 10-7 lead with 17.6 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Desert Ridge once again had little success against a superior Hamilton defense. Joey Counts carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards, although nearly half of that came late when the Huskies switched to a more relaxed defensive front. Jordan Becerra had 10 carries for 21 yards and two catches for 27 yards.

"If it's not the best (defense in Hamilton history), it's up there," Huskies coach Steve Belles said.

Rasmussen finished 12-of-20 for 143 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Desert Ridge made the state championship game last season and lost to Hamilton in the postseason for the second straight year.

"I'm proud of our boys for fighting hard until the end," Hathcock said.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]