4A State Championship Preview

Rockets and Cobras set to square off for the title.

4A State Championship


Cactus vs Moon Valley @ ASU

So here we go, after months of lifting, spring ball, passing league, scrimmages and region games it all comes down to this.  Every team started out with a goal; but only two teams are left standing, these teams have overcome adversity, criticism and a few road bumps but no matter what anyone says, the winner of this game is the state champ.


Keys to the game:

When Cactus is on Defense:  Cactus has a long standing tradition of a high flying score a ton of points offense.  Breaking down their film on Saturday's is not a fun experience, having done it once before.  With that being said, their defense has been just as important this season as their offense.  Giving up an average of 16 points a game, the Cobra defense has forced teams to give the ball up to their offense with good field position.  As any coach will tell you it's a whole heck of a lot easier to drive 50 yards than it is 80.  Linebacker LaDarius Howard, might be the most underrated linebacker in the Grand Canyon state.  He is all over the field and is a very sound tackler.  Defensive End Anthony Freeman has been the main source of pressure on the quarterback registering 5 sacks on the season.  In the secondary Josh Butler and Ezra Ricks both have two interceptions to lead their team.  Cactus all year long has been a bend but don't break defense.  They always seem to come up with the big play when they need it, sometimes it's a pick sometimes it's a fumble recovery or a sack.  So many of Moon Valley's scores have come on big plays this season, if Cactus can do like Centennial did last week and make the Rockets drive the football, that will definitely help out their cause.


 When Cactus is on Offense:  Hey this is Cactus were talking about here folks.  Offense is the name of the game and Cactus is always at the top of the class.  Averging more than 26 points a game, Cactus's offense did enough to win all but one game this season.  Quarterback Jonathon Tobin has really grown over the last several weeks, while his stats haven't always been Cactus like, bottom line is his team is playing for a state championship.  A quarterback isn't judged or remembered by stats instead their remembered for being a leader and leading his team regardless of the stats he has accomplished.  There are only two quarterbacks still playing in 4A Tobin is one of them.  On the ground the Cobras feature junior Richard Morris, all 6'0 and 230 pounds of him.  Catching passes from Tobin all season are Manny Solarez, Jordan Flores and Richard Moreno.  Cactus spreads the ball around but all three of these players are quality high school receivers.  Cactus has to have long drives, Moon Valley might have too much offensive firepower for anyone to beat them in a shoot out.  Their best bet might be to chew up as much clock as possible, plus I'm sure the Cobra's will have a few tricks up their sleeve offensively, they always do.


When Moon Valley is on Defense: Going into the season the knock on the Rockets was that they were soft and didn't have the defense to play with the big boys.  Well they have proved all the critics wrong by playing aggressive defense all year long.  Led by linebacker Matt Hain this unit features a ton of speed.  This team also features someone who might be the most underrated player at his respective position in defensive tackles Sam Chung and Sammy Salamasina, both of these boys can flat out play ball.  Because of their abilities, they face constant double teams which allows speedster Isaiah Smart to come off the edge and get to the quarterback.  Their play also allows their linebackers to run all over the place without being hit by the center or guards. In the secondary,  Chris McGaha and Darrell Sumpter form a great tandem at the safety spot.  Moon Valley needs to force several three and outs in order to get their offense back on the field.  They probably have too much speed to give up a ton of big plays, but they have to try and limit the long drives.


When Moon Valley is on Offense: What can you say about the Rockets offensively, they have been ringing up opposing defenses like a toll booth this season.  They just have so many weapons and so much speed at each position it creates mismatches all over the place.  Brian Wriston has thrown himself into the states record books with a fantastic senior season, his main target Chris McGaha is a home run threat waiting to happen.  Take that away and Tsar Johnson will eat you up, play with your safeties deep and Jeff Jones will go off.  Plus we haven't even mentioned Matt Hain.  Using multiple formations and motion to create mismatches, hold on to your seats because you never know when someone will take it 80 yards to the house.  Moon Valley has to score when they get the ball.  If they can get the ball to their playmakers in space on multiple occasions the Rockets should find some success.


Special Teams:  This actually might be the key to the game.  Cactus has a very strong kicking game led by Ezra Ricks conversly, Moon Valley's return game is second to none.   Field position and big plays are key here. 


Tale of the Tape


at Saguaro

W 33-10

at McClintock

W 10-9


W 35-32


W 21-14

at Apollo

W 49-0


W 39-36

Shadow Mountain

W 34-0

at Bradshaw Mountain

W 28-14

at Pinnacle

W 27-26


L 6-54


W 27-14


W 29-7


W 9-0


Moon Valley


W 34-12

at Palo Verde

W 63-14


W 64-7

at Sunnyslope

W 61-22

San Luis

W 71-0


W 58-7

at Coronado

W 41-10

at Washington

W 54-6


W 48-21

at Thunderbird

W 40-6


W 47-12


W 63-7

at Centennial

W 14-10


Comments from Opposing Coaches


"Cactus is a very well-coached team. Their offense has imported a great deal through out the year. They are always tough on defense. Tough to beat on the deep pass."

Saguaro Head Coach Mike Reardon


"My thoughts of Cactus is that they are very well coached and
disciplined. They gave us problems with their quickness and size. I
felt that they were the fastest team we faced all year. For the most
part, we had more team speed than most of the teams we played, but
Cactus matched our speed and outsized us a bit as well.
I was very impressed with how well coached these guys were. My hope is
that we can get our young program to reach the success of Cactus."

Cienega Head Coach Nemer Hassey


"Everyone knows the talent of McGaha, Wriston, Hain and Johnson. What really compliments this high powered offense is the smothering defense and team speed of guys like Sammy Salamasina, Jeff Jones, and Isaiah Smart. Add in Hain and McGaha on defense and they will shut anyone down. An extremely talented and athletic team that is well-coached."

Greenway Head Coach Mike Brown


"It should be a great game. Super athletes on both sides."

Centennial Head Coach Richard Taylor


"I have been really impressed with the job Larry has done at Cactus this year. There have been many occasions when his team could have dropped off competitively but I believe they knew some of the teams they played close early were not as bad as all the experts believed. I know when our school played them to within 7 they were beat up by the
internet experts. But our kids played well that night. I hope Cactus is as improved on the defensive side as it appears. If they do not make big mistakes this should be a better game than people believe it will be. I'm looking forward to it."

Buckeye Head Coach Bobby Barnes


"Cactus is a very disciplined and physical football team.  They are solid
both sides of the ball and they have excellent special teams play.  In my
opinion, it is their emphasis on great special teams that has lifted them
over most of their opponents.  Their players know if the game is close, they
will come out on top.  It shows in the way they play.  That is a credit to
their coaching staff and the tradition of the Cactus program.  If it is a
close game, you have to give the edge to Cactus."

Pinnacle Head Coach Dana Zupke

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