The field was muddy and the rain was falling as Desert Vista squared off against Red Mountain in the 5A D1 semi-final game at Chandler High School.
RedMountain had to feel good about their chances with their solid run offense to help keep the ball on the ground on this wet and rainy night. It was the DV offense that started things off however, as the battle for field position began on the first drive. After a nice gain by RB Devon Kennardup the middle and an end around by WR Allante Battle that moved the chains once, a fumble on the hand off (DV recovered) and an illegal motion penalty stalled the opening drive. On the 4th down punt, the snap went high and the wet ball got away from Brock Jolly as he went to kick. He fell on the ball but RedMountain took over with great field position –1st and 10 on the DV 25 yard line.
It was all RB Jarison Johnson and FB Taylor Sare on the ground as each took turns running the ball, but a faulty exchange on the snap and the wet conditions caused a fumble on 4th down and DV recovered the ball.
On the very next play Coach Dan Hinds dared to go to the air and the ball seemed to slip out of QB Cole Pembroke's hands. It was LB Greg Gutierrez that snatched the pass out of the air and once again the Red Mountain O took the field with an excellent scoring opportunity – this time they would cash in. Johnson ran for 5 yards between the tackles, Sare went for 5 more. It was first and goal on the one yard line when QB Taylor Perkins took the snap and jumped over the goal line for a Lion touchdown. The PAT was good and RedMountain was up 7 – 0.
For the next 4 drives, both teams would go 3 and out as the coaches opted to punt away and vie for field position on a night when long drives seemed tough to come by. At the end of the 1st quarter, RedMountain went 3 and out and kicker Colton Sheley bobbled the snap and could not get the kick off before the DV linemen got to him. It was a turn over on downs and one that gave the field position edge to DV moving into the 2nd quarter.
After 3 and outs by both teams, DV got the ball on their 37 yard line with the 2nd quarter ticking away. That's when the Thunder had one of the longer drives of the night. RB Marcus Washington got his game going with a couple solid runs to move the chains. After a false start penalty made it 2nd and 9, Pembroke kept the ball on an apparent pass play and scrambled for 15 yards. The RM defense seemed to have the Thunder stopped with an incomplete pass, stuffing runs by Kennard, and a delay of game penalty on the Thunder. However, on the 4th down punt, RM was flagged for a personal foul when one of the linemen ran into the kicker. This gave the Thunder the ball in Lion territory and an automatic first down. Allante Battle had an end-around run that went for a loss of 2 yards, and Kennard was stuffed for no gain on the next play. It was all Washington on the next two plays – the first, a pitch outside that went for 16 yards. Next, he took the hand off to the left side and twisted and turned his way out of a couple would be tackles and rumbled 33 yards for a Thunder TD. With left in the half DV had tied the game 7 all. RM tried a couple run plays to end the half but took a knee to run out a fast first half of football.
RedMountain came out in the second half looking to go up and had a decent drive to start things off. It was all Taylor Sare on this drive as he got the ball 6 times straight – a mix of between the tackle running and pitch outs moved the chains 3 times. Either DV caught on or Sare got tired and on 2nd and 9, he fumbled the ball on a pitch to the left side – DV recovered.
With first and 10 on the 25 – DV went on their second long drive of the night. Washington took the ball 15 yards off left tackle, then up the gut for 4 more. Kennard got the ball and went for 6 yards as the Thunder O started getting gains in large chunks. Washington took the ball for 9 more yards, followed by an Allante Battle end-around that went for no gain. On 4th and 1, RedMountain once again "shot themselves in the foot" with an off sides penalty that gave DV a first down. Washington and Kennard moved the chains again after the penalty - DV was in the red zone and was eating up a ton of clock. Kennard went for another 10 yards and the Thunder had first and goal on the 10. After a 4 yard run by Kennard and a 5 yard gain by Washington, it looked like RedMountain might make a stand after a nice run stuffing tackle on Kennard by LB Austin Mapes. But on 4th and goal from the 1 Kennard took the hand off and leapt across the goal line. The PAT was good and with left to play in the 3rd DV had their first lead, 14 - 7.
RedMountain looked to respond. They had a nice drive going to end the 3rd quarter that featured more "lightening and thunder" running by Sare and Johnson. With 2nd and 7 on the 43 Perkins fumbled the snap and fell on the ball as the quarter came to an end – this would be a bit of foreshadowing for what the 4th quarter would hold for the Lion offense.
To start the 4th, Johnson took the ball for 3 yards which brought up 4th and 4 on the 38 yard line. Coach Jim Jones must have felt that this was a crucial drive as they went for in on 4th and 4. The pitch to Johnson went for 5 yards and RM got the first down. Sare took the hand off for 6 yards and an off sides penalty on the DV Defense gave the Lions extra yardage. It was 1st and 10 on the DV 20 when the Thunder defense locked down. A pitch to Johnson went for no gain, then Johnson got 4 yards, on 3rd down, another fumble on the snap exchange and Perkins fell on the ball. Once again the Lions would go for it on 4th and 6 only this time the Thunder D stuffed the QB keeper after gaining only one yard and forced a huge turn over on downs. But the drama wasn't over yet.
DV went 3 and out on their next drive thanks in part to a holding penalty that pushed the Thunder back across their own 10 yard line setting up 2nd and 19 from the 9 – they would not get passed the 12 yard line. They punted the ball away and asked their defense to make a stand yet again. With the clock ticking down – RedMountain got the ball on their 48 yard line. Once again it was Johnson and Sare that would move the ball down the field on a series of hand offs and pitch plays. On 4th and 3, Johnson kept the drive alive with a gain of 4 yards. It was 1st and 10 on the 25 yard line now when things fell apart for the Lions. On first down another fumbled snap, on second down a run up the middle by Sare for 2 yards. On third down another fumbled snap that Perkins barley fell on and wrestled away from a DV defender. There was less than two minutes on the clock and RedMountain had no times outs. They came to the line of scrimmage and once again a fumble on the snap – only this time it was costly since it was 4th down and through the mud and rain it looked as thought DV had recovered any way. RedMountain's run for the State Trophy would end there as DV took a couple knees to run the clock out. Final score, Desert Vista 14 – RedMountain 7.
Bottom line: The weather was a factor for both teams so it played it neutral. Both teams had turnovers and fumbles due to the rain, and it appeared only one pass was completed early in the game – a short over the middle route to Allante Battle that went for no gain. There was maybe only six or so pass attempts other than that, one of them an interception which led to RedMountain's only points. Early on it looked as though RedMountain would have the edge with their O-line getting a solid push and DV having a hard time stopping the RB duo of Johnson and Sare. But as the game went on DV stiffened and really didn't give up any huge scoring drives…while RedMountain gave up a couple 70 yard plus drive. Washington really took the game over with some of the biggest runs of the night, and once he was a threat, it only made Kennard all the better with his bruising up the gut runs. In the end, it was RedMountain's inability to finish off drives that burned them. If they capitalize on either of those second half drives they could be heading to Glendale instead of DV.
Game Balls: Tough to say on this one, not because of the level performances, rather, because through most of the game you really could not see some of the numbers on the jerseys because of the mud. For RedMountain, you easily give it to Johnson and Sare on offense. They were the drive – every drive. On D for RedMountain, Gutierrez had the big pick, and DB Julian Madison had his named called quite a bit for his tackles. For DV – Washington easily gets the game ball on Offense. He turned the game around with his big run ability and hard running. Kennard can be mentioned on both Offense and Defense with some big runs, a touchdown, and some huge tackles while being double teamed. LB Mike Sadoway had a nice game as well.