The season began with Desert Ridge’s most notable player transferring out and the final regular season game began with their starting quarterback having his facemask getting bent after a vicious hit on the first drive.
In between the Jaguars stayed true to themselves and didn’t cave in to the pressure of closing out the program’s first league title since 2014 after winning 21-7 Friday night at Highland.
It might be the most unlikely regular season championship considering the reliance on about dozen sophomores in the program’s history as Desert Ridge finished 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the Central Region to wrap up a likely top three seed in the 6A Conference playoffs.
“Every year we do what we do and somehow we came out on top,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “For the last few offseasons I wondered if they’ve heard the same voice for too long and this is the final year, but we always come together and put together a pretty good team.
“We brought this thing from the ashes (12 years ago) and this has become a pretty special place to coach and work with these players.”
The players reaped the rewards of that work on Friday with a defensive-dominated game to win the sixth league title in the last eight seasons for the program.
“This is pretty special because it is the first one for our class,” senior defensive end Ty Miller said. “We really worked for this and we need to focus on what’s next and bring the same kind of effort next week.”
The bracket will be released around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday with Perry, Mountain Pointe, Desert Ridge and Chandler in the mix for the top our spots.
The Jaguars are in this position after putting together an impressive win at Highland (7-3, 3-2) as Desert Ridge built a 21-0 lead before the Hawks found a rhythm in the passing game to score late.
In reality the Jaguars were in control the whole game as Cooper Schmidt led the Jaguars to an 80-yard drive to start the game as Tyrese Allen finished off the opening drive with a 2-yard score.
On the third play of the game, Schmidt took a direct hit to the facemask and was eventually pulled from the game for precautionary reasons.
“On the next couple of drives, he called every play wrong,” Hathcock said. “Why take a chance when it looked like we didn’t need him. We think he will be OK.”
Matthew Purnell, who usually alternates drives with Schmidt, took over full-time and completed a 59-yard bomb to Deonce Elliott in the second quarter for a 14-0 halftime lead.
It was plenty of cushion for the Jaguars defense against Highland, which played without leading rusher Jacob Wood, who is expected back next week.
Desert Ridge, which lost prized prospect Jason Harris to a transfer in the offseason, held Highland to 12 yards rushing on 20 attempts including five sacks by five different players, and kept the Hawks out the end zone until the final five minutes.
The defense let a up a little bit after Donjae Logan’s interception and long return set up the third Jaguar touchdown for a 21-0 lead.
“The defense played great against a physical and tough team,” Hathcock said. “They are a good team, but I felt like we were in control with the way the defense was playing.”
Junior Gabe Segura, who had one of the sacks, said the team is ready to keep up this level of play up for the next several weeks.
“We will celebrate this tonight, but we have to be ready for what is next,” he said. “We are playing pretty good ever since losing to Hamilton (on Sept. 8) but we have to be even better in the playoffs.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Desert Ridge 21, Highland 7
DR 7 7 0 7-21
H 0 0 0 7-7
DR – Allen 2 run (Stephans kick), 8:23
DR – Elliott 59 pass from Purnell (Stephans kick), 6:38
DR – Wright 12 run (Stephans kick), 11:33
H – Cullimer 18 pass from Herbert (McNamara kick), 5:00
First downs 11 12
Rush-yards 30-97 20-12
Com-Att-Int 8-11-0 20-37-1
Pass yards 137 215
Total yards 234 227
Fumbles 1/1 0/0
Penalties 9-105 6-60
DR – Allen 2-6, Wright 14-57, Schmidt 6-36, Elliott 3-4, Purnell 7-0. H – Cullimer 6-12, Huffman 7-13, Bryant 1-12, Herbert 6-(-)25.
DR – Schmidt 2-3-0-48, Purnell 6-8-0-89. H-Herbert 20-37-1-215.
DR – Elliott 2-67, Bethel 3-57. Wright 3-13. H- Lunt 3050, Cullimer 5-44, Meaux 3-29, Zimmerman 2014, Bond 1-6, Burdick 1-7, Huffman 2-32, Gastinell 1-5.
DR – Stephans 43 (blocked). H – McNamara 51 (short).