If Desert Ridge wasn’t a member of the exclusive club of Arizona 6A Conference title contenders, Thursday changed all of that.
The Jaguars weren’t flawless, giving away four turnovers, but they were fearless in the face of 6A No. 1 Mountain Pointe on Thursday in a Central Region showdown at Mountain Pointe, which entered the game No. 2 in the MyNewsMesa.com rankings.
Desert Ridge, who entered the game at No. 5 in the 6A power points by MyNewsMesa.com, scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 11:44 to pull off a 31-20 victory and propel the Jaguars into the title conversation.
“Is this one of our best wins? Does this prove anything? No,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said after the win. “It proves our kids have resilience and we overcame ourselves and we overcame a great second half by Mountain Pointe.
“I think we’re learning that we belong. I think how we handle it from this point on really depends on how we come to work on Monday.”
Desert Ridge (7-1, 3-0 Central Region) was kept in the game by a stout run defense that held Mountain Pointe to 178 yards on 39 rush attempts.
The Jaguars also picked off Mountain Pointe quarterback Nick Wallerstedt twice (including a 60-yard pick-six from Alex Segura to ice the game away) and Donjae Logan caused and recovered a fumble by Gary Bragg at the Desert Ridge 2-yard line in the first quarter to set the tone for the Jaguars defense.
“I think for the first time we’re finding out who we are as a team,” Hathcock said. “So moving forward, it could be fun to put this thing together.”
A 10-6 halftime lead disappeared and Desert Ridge wasn’t having much fun after throwing its fourth interception of the night with 2:40 left in the third quarter. Things grew worse after Mountain Pointe (6-2, 2-1) rolled right down the field to score and go up 20-10.
On its next drive, things started to turn for Desert Ridge. A long kickoff return by Deonce Elliott gave the Jaguars the ball at midfield.
Then facing a third-and-13 on the Mountain Pointe 48, Jaguars quarterback Cooper Schmidt scrambled around just long enough to allow Lucas Wright to fight through his defender (taking a couple steps out of bounds in the process) and get behind the defense. Schmidt threw his best pass of the night over an outstretched Pride defensive back and right into Wright’s hands at the 11-yard line.
“I was just running down the field,” said Wright. “I knew Cooper would make time, so I just let him throw it up and I made a play and we built off of that.”
After Logan took a swing pass down to the 1-yard line on the first play of the fourth quater, Wright took it in from there to pull Desert Ridge to within 20-17. On the night, Wright made a huge impact, rushing 13 times for 110 yards, with bruising runs of 35 and 41 yards right through the heart of the Pride defense.
“The big plays, they helped build the momentum in the game,” said Wright, who only had one carry in an Oct. 6 win over Corona del Sol after injuring his back. “I couldn’t have done it without the offensive line, they were just working the defensive line. Mountain Pointe is a great team, so it’s a good win.”
After the teams traded punts, Desert Ridge took over on its own 27 with 6:19 left to play. The drive appeared to stall when Wright was stopped short of the first down on a 3rd-and-1 at the 36. After the play was over, Mountain Pointe was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Desert Ridge drive new life.
A 16-yard run by Wright and a 20-yard run by Schmidt moved the Jaguars to the Mountain Pointe 11. On first down, Schmidt ran the wrong play, losing 5 yards and putting the drive in a hole.
“I just read the play call wrong,” said Schmidt, a junior. “So I just tried to make something out of it and it didn’t really work.”
But, Schmidt recovered quickly on the next play, running over left end and straight upfield for the 17-yard touchdown that put his team on top 24-20 with 3:28 left.
“It was just a zone read where we’re supposed to read the D-end and from that, I made the right read and got up in the hole and scored,” said Schmidt.
Those two plays summed up the night for the two Desert Ridge quarterbacks, Schmidt and sophomore Matthew Purnell. The pair each threw two interceptions, including a crucial one right before halftime by Schmidt, but they also produced some big plays, including Purnell’s 52-yard run to set up Desert Ridge’s first score of the game, one of two Logan Stephans field goals.
“Frustration to elation,” Hathcock said of his two quarterbacks. “I will say, they’re good, but it’s hard when you’re playing two quarterbacks, they can’t really get into that groove and it showed tonight.
“The play before the half, I said ‘Hey, we’re going to run that crack screen, but if it’s not there, just throw it away and live another day,’ and he tried to make a play when there was none there and it just shows you our youth.”
When it counted, both came through, combining for 108 yards on 15 carries and throwing for 98 yards.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it means so much because we put in a lot of time this week,” Schmidt said. “We were inside the film room and outside on the field, just getting ready for this game and I think it paid off.”
Some other key contributors for the Jaguars included Logan, who made a nifty one-handed interception in the final seconds, and Elliott, who had 102 yards on kickoff returns to put the Jaguars in good field position to go along with 45 receiving yards. Tyrese Allen had the first Desert Ridge score of the night, a 2-yard plunge in the second quarter to put Desert Ridge up 10-3.
Desert Ridge will next take on Desert Vista Friday, Oct. 20 at Desert Ridge.
– Steve Burks is a freelancer writer for MyNewsMesa.com.
Desert Ridge 31, Mountain Pointe 20
DR 3 7 0 21-31
MP 0 6 14 0-20
DR – FG Stephans 24 (2:29)
MP – FG Abercrombie 35 (7:58)
DR – Allen 2 run (Stephans kick) 4:59
MP – FG Abercrombie 37 (:02)
MP – McKinney 7 run (Abercrombie kick) 9:25
MP – Wallerstedt 29 run (Abercrombie kick) 1:12
DR – Wright 1 run (Stephans kick) 11:44
DR – Schmidt 17 run (Stephans kick) 3:28
DR – Segura 60 interception return (Stephans kick) :43
First Downs 16 15
Total offense 348 334
Total plays 54 60
Yards per play 6.4 5.6
Rushes-Yards 39-250 39-178
Passing Yards 98 156
Comp-Att-Int 8-15-4 13-21-2
Penalties-Yards 4-25 6-45
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1
Punts-Avg. 2-33.5 5-39.8
Time of Possession 23:17 23:43
Rushing – DR: Lucas Wright 13-110, Matthew Purnell 7-65, Cooper Schmidt 8-43, Tyrese Allen 8-18, Deonce Elliott 2-12, John Butler 1-2. MP: Jakim McKinney 9-65, Nick Wallerstedt 14-40, Jathan Washington 2-35, Delano Salgado 3-21, Gary Bragg 10-17, Marshawn Gibson 1-0
Passing– DR: Schmidt 3-5-57-0-2, Purnell 5-10-41-0-2. MP: Wallerstedt 13-21-156-0-2.
Receiving – DR: Elliott 4-45, Wright 1-42, Donjae Logan 1-11, Kane Konieczny 2-0. MP: Sky Hinojosa 5-58, Delano Salgado 2-46, Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson 3-24, Jakim McKinney 1-12, Donte Lindsey 1-8, Keion Russell 1-8.