Outlook: Finding an acceptable defense has been quite the struggle for third-year Cactus Shadows coach Greg Davis. The team gave up 42.1 points in 2011 and 32.2 last year, which, not surprisingly, culminated in a 6-14 record over that span. Now that standout quarterback Bryce Kinsler has moved on, outscoring opponents will be even tougher, so defensive improvement seems imperative to find success.
Luckily, Davis seems optimistic. The Falcons return seven starters on that side of the ball, including linebacker Nate Brockman, defensive back Emeka Esemonu and linebacker Tanner Buchert. Additionally, the team has finally found a defensive coordinator to lead the way, as Colorado Mesa assistant Darin Robidoux joins the staff.
“For the first time since I have been at Cactus Shadows, I believe that the defense will be much improved,” Davis said.
The offense must replace Kinsler (2,507 yards, 18 TD, 9 INT), wide receivers Matt Hartlen (1,000 yards receiving) and Kyle Gladstone (653 yards receiving) as well as its top-3 running backs, but does have three starters returning on the offensive line.
The schedule is where Cactus Shadows can make some hay, as games against Apollo, Notre Dame and Chaparral seem to be the only three in which a win will be out of reach.
The team is going to a platoon system where each player will only play on one side of the ball. Davis believes it will help the team stay fresh late in games, which will help the end result.
“They have embraced it and are owning their spots,” Davis said. “We lost a lot of games late because of our lack of depth last year.”
Division II, Section VII
Coach: Greg Davis
Last year’s record: 3-7, did not qualify for postseason
Returning Starters: 5 on offense/ 7 on defense
Top returners: LB Nate Brockman (81 tackles, 2.5 sacks); DB Emeka Esemonu (28 tackles, 3 INT); OL Nate Covert; OL Brad Souva; LB Tanner Buchert (33 tackles, 1.5 sacks).
Aug. 30 vs. Raymond S. Kellis; Sept. 6 at Willow Canyon; Sept. 12 vs. Apollo; Sept. 20 at Higley; Sept. 27 at South Mountain; Oct. 4 vs. Sunnyslope; Oct. 11 at Notre Dame; Oct. 18 vs. Paradise Valley; Oct. 25 at Chaparral; Nov. 1 vs. Arcadia
Sept. 20 at Higley: Both teams finished under .500 in 2012 and will look for better results this season. The Knights feature standout tight end Nick Colson, and he will be a tough test for the Falcons’ defense. Cactus Shadows has a very workable schedule this season and needs to win games like this to get into the playoffs.
Oct. 18 vs. Paradise Valley: This is a rivalry which has generally led to some pretty good contests. Both teams must replace their standout quarterbacks from a year ago, but hope to have that issue ironed out by this time in the season.
Nov. 1 vs. Arcadia: The Falcons wrap up the regular season against the Titans. The final stretch is tough, with Notre Dame, Paradise Valley and Chaparral the opponents in the three preceding weeks. If Cactus Shadows gets off to a good start, it could be on the playoff bubble heading into this contest.