It’s a formula that worked during Desert Ridge’s run to the state championship game a year ago; it’s a formula that certainly worked again in a dominant 54-7 home win over Skyline Friday night.
A week after only touching the ball five times during the Jaguars’ 28-6 loss to top-ranked Hamilton, Jordan Becerra again became the focal point of the Desert Ridge offense against the visiting Coyotes. With Parker Rasmussen lined up wide most of the night, it was Becerra – and an almost-fully healthy Joey Counts at running back – who fueled four scoring drives in each half against Skyline.
While Counts barreled inside and bounced outside to the tune of 220 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries in just his second full outing of the season, it was Becerra who played all but three of the game’s critical snaps at quarterback for Desert Ridge (4-1). The senior carried the ball 15 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 6 of 9 passes for 97 yards.
While Counts admitted that this game felt a bit like last season, when the Jaguars won eight straight before falling to new nemesis Hamilton in the title match, Hathcock said after the game that he is committed to running the offense through Becerra from here on out.
“We really think to make a serious run at this, all the snaps have to go through Jordan,” Hathcock said.
While Becerra looked confident as ever in the shotgun, it was Counts who picked up the big yardage – and couldn’t seem to stay out of the end zone.
“I think it’s been more the mental aspect. I’ve been good for a few weeks, but it was just mentally getting back into it,” said Counts, a senior who’s battled an injury to his shoulder blade before facing the ultimate trial by fire a week ago in his first true action of the season against Hamilton.
Hathcock said that Counts look good, but that he still has some recovery left.
“He still looked a little weird though,” Hathcock said. “He had 200 yards rushing … that’s how good he is.
“He’s our emotional leader and we’ve been missing him. Your first full game back is Hamilton? That’s very tough. I think it takes a running back 40 carries to really feel it. I was a college running back, it takes about 40 carries to feel it. I think he’s about 40 now. Now with him – and Jordan – we’re going be dangerous. It’s going to be fun.”
Counts wasted no time getting the scoring rolling in this one, scoring from 25 yards out less than 90 seconds into the game. The running was all downhill from there for the Jaguars, who scored twice more in the first quarter – Becerra runs of 8 and 5 yards – to blow the game open. Counts would score again in the second on a 70-yard scamper before Skyline (3-2) put its only points on the board - a 25-yard jump-ball touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Michael Amado to Braeden Bowman.
Amado was an efficient 14 of 23 passing, but could only muster 114 yards. He threw two interceptions also, and struggled to run against the Desert Ridge defense. Skyline managed just 84 yards on 29 carries for the game.
In the second half, the score got further out of hand, and the game turned downright strange – and then scary – for a bit.
With about eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and the game well out of reach, the scary part happened when Desert Ridge lineman Charles Murphy went down – and stayed down. A 25-minute-plus delay that saw fire personnel and an ambulance arrive on site ended with Murphy strapped to a stretcher and carted off the field in an ambulance.
While it initially appeared as if Murphy wasn’t moving much, Hathcock said that initial indications were that the injury was a “stinger” and that the junior would likely be OK. Alluding that Murphy was moving his extremities, Hathcock said that paramedics actually had to tell him to not move as much as they stabilized him and left the stadium.
“We’re hoping it’s just precautionary … we’re hoping it’s just a stinger, but we’ll find out,” Hathcock said. “He’ll be ok. He was all over the place, they were just like, ‘stop moving.’ He didn’t take a head hit … it wasn’t a head-to-head or anything.".
Before that, midway through the third quarter, that’s when the strange part took place. The Jaguars, on defense at the time, were dinged for double personal foul calls on an otherwise ho-hum Skyline run up the middle. As part of the ensuing explanation, it appeared that Rasmussen, in at defensive back, was ejected from the game. A player ejected must sit out the following week, but Hathcock said he and the officials agreed it was a mistake and he hopes there’s a way to overturn it.
“We don’t think (Rasmussen will sit). They say he bumped into an official,” Hathcock said. “But it was one of our other kids that bumped into an official and moved him. … We talked to an official about it and they seem to agree.”
Hathcock insisted that Rasmussen – relatively entrenched at quarterback for Desert Ridge’s first four games this season – will stay a big part of the team’s offense at receiver, and occasionally in the shotgun at quarterback.
“Parker is such a threat on the edge, and coming in at quarterback, and playing (defensive back),” Hathcock said. “He does a great job for us.”
And whether Rasmussen can go next week or not, Becerra, Counts and the rest of the Jaguars are at Red Mountain before hosting Basha the week after. Skyline is home the next two weeks, facing Highland and then Mesa.