With two high-powered running-based offenses that each averaged more than 40 points a game this season, it figured that the Division I state quarterfinal between second-seeded Desert Ridge and Avondale Westview would be a defensive battle.
“Has anybody done that on defense to them?” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock asked after his team allowed just one touchdown in a 14-7 win Friday night.
“We are the most underrated defense in the state. Our defense is a bunch of no-names who play incredibly hard.”
The no-names had to step up in-part because Desert Ridge lost another key member of its offense. Late in the first quarter, quarterback Tarek Morrison converted a fourth-and-1 play at his 38 with a sweep to the right only to end up taking a helmet-to-helmet hit that apparently resulted in a knee injury. He was hobbled and did not return, turning the reins over to junior Brendan Smith, who has had limited playing time this season and not many reps in practice.
But Smith held his own and the Jaguars defense held Seivion Morris and the Westview running game mostly in check, giving Desert Ridge a berth in the state semifinals for the second straight year -- and against the same team it faced last season, third-seeded Hamilton. The game will be played at Highland High School next Friday night.
But that berth was not secured until Manny Figueroa made one last stop on Morris. Still within one score, Westview got the ball back on its 46-yard line with 4:09 remaining. Despite having its timeouts left, quarterback Kordell Provchy spiked the ball on first-and-10 at the Desert Ridge 40. A short run and another incomplete pass left the Knights with a fourth-and-6 at the 36.
They gave the ball to Morris, a 1,000-yard rusher this season who had 102 yards on Friday.
“I saw the running back pulling and the quarterback hand it off,” Figueroa said. “I see him running with the ball, scooping up, and I just took his legs out. It was good.”
Without Morrison, the Desert Ridge offense seemed off its game. Smith admitted that it took a while for the team to get in gear. He did engineer a scoring drive late in the first half, with Taren Morrison doing most of the running and Nathan Rodriguez diving in from the 1 to cut the deficit to 7-6.
“I knew when I went in, just trust what was going on around me and know what I have seen -- mental reps-wise -- how to run the plays,” Smith said. “Just take care of the football and manage.”
The first time the Jaguars touched the ball in the second half, Chris Siaumau turned the momentum in Desert Ridge's favor. On fourth-and-1 at the Jaguars 47, getting the ball out of a short-yardage formation, Siaumau ran left, got past the line of scrimmage and raced 53 yards for the go-ahead score.
“When we popped that fourth-and-1, we started to believe a little bit,” Hathcock said. “I’m really proud of the way our guys came together. When was the last time you had to see us win ugly? We had to win ugly, and we did.”
The Jaguars had other opportunities -- a shanked 4-yard punt that gave Desert Ridge the ball at the Westview 31, for example. But Siaumau had the ball stripped on the next play after a grinding 18-yard run. Early in the fourth, Desert Ridge was driving and had a fourth-and-9 at the Knights 25-yard line, but Smith was intercepted by Provchy at the 3.
But the Westview quarterback was shaken up on the pick, and the Knights couldn’t move the ball successfully again, although their defense held on the next Desert Ridge possession to set up the final drive that Figueroa ended on fourth-and-6.
Meanwhile, Desert Ridge's defense held a team averaging 49.4 points a game to a lone touchdown -- a 69-yard pass play on which Roderic Mitchell got behind the defense down the sideline.
Desert Ridge 14, Westview 7
Westview 7 0 0 0 -- 7
Desert Ridge 0 6 8 0 -- 14
W-Mitchell 69 pass from Provchy (Valdez-Paz kick)
DR-Rodriguez 1 run (kick failed)
DR-Siaumau 53 run (Morrison run)
First Downs: WV 8, DR 12
Rushes-yards WV 37-151, DR 44-284
Passing yards WV 80, DR 0
Passes WV 3-12-0, DR 0-5-1
Fumbles-lost: WV 1-0, DR 3-2
Penalties-yards: WV 8-61, DR 10-75