There is a reason why teams are not just penciled into championship games no matter how good they are. The game still at the end of the day needs to be played on the field and Desert Ridge proved why. The Jaguars shocked the number one seeded and nationally ranked Chandler Wolves in the semi-finals on friday night 24-21 from Hamilton High School.
“Everyone always said we wouldn’t but the truth is we did,” said head coach Jeremy Hathcock on his team’s belief going into the game. “Our kids just rallied together. Our motto was ‘rise above’ at camp and boy we rose above. I think we shocked the entire state and maybe even part of the country. I am proud of our kids.”
“We played so hard,” added junior safety and running back Stephan Gomez. “We came into the game hard and big hearted with strong belief. We studied so much of them, we knew what they were going to run and we had some unbelievable heart.”
The Wolves got off to the fast start as they scored on their first offensive play from scrimmage as junior running back T.J. Green scampered for a 50 yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
From there, Desert Ridge took control of the game playing their style and at their pace. They had three consecutive methodic drives which lead to ten points. It could have been more but Chandler got an interception in the red zone from junior Imani Lee to put a stop to one of them. The Jaguars dominated the time of possession in the first half and had a 10-7 lead at halftime.
In the second half, mistakes would mount for the Wolves. To start the third quarter, senior linebacker Tate Shumway would force a fumble and Stephan Gomez would recover it and take it deep into Chandler territory. That led to a touchdown to make it a 17-7 lead.
“Desert Ridge played a heck of a football game,” said Chandler head coach Shaun Aguano. “We had our chances, they played well on defense and we couldn’t score.”
Stephen Gomez was phenomenal in the game for Desert Ridge. He had that fumble recovery, he was a threat on special teams, he scored a huge touchdown on fourth and goal from the one in the second half and also had two interceptions in the game.
“That kid is unbelievable,” mentioned Hathcock. “You did an article on him before. I’ll tell you what man, that kid runs about a 4.8 forty (yard dash), but he does it backwards, sideways and frontwards. So he’s a total stud.”
Chandler would have one final chance tout together a game winning drive but the Jags defense was too much as they would go four and out and turn it over.
“I thought they defended the run very well from us,” stated Aguano. “So we had to open it up with passing and they defended it well. We had our chances in the red zone three times and didn’t come away with anything and our defense came up with three great stops and we come up with nothing. For me calling the plays offensively, I take responsibility for not getting it done.”
This was Desert Ridge’s fifth final four in six years and it will now be their first state championship appearance since 2010.
On the Chandler side of the ball, the Wolves had a tough blow early as they lost junior receiver Kolby Taylor to injury. Coach Aguano said after the game that the initial thought on the sidelines was that it is a broken fibula. Our thoughts out to him for a speedy recovery.
The Wolves also did not have star receiver N’Keal Harry in the game as he was held out of the game because of an academic issue.
The Jaguars will now take on the Centennial Coyotes who eliminated the number two seeded Mountain Pointe Pride 31-21 on friday night. The Coyotes are riding high coming off wins over Basha, Hamilton and now the Pride to get to state. Judging on how both teams have played this season, the battle in the trenches should be extraordinary.
“They’re a good team,” stated Gomez. “They are big, physical. We are going to have to play with more belief and bigger heart.”
“We prepare for a 14 games season,” state Hathcock. “That’s what we do up in Winslow. We’re her now. It;s our second time being here and hopefully we can close the deal.”
Desert Ridge and Centennial will kick off next Friday from University of Phoenix Stadium at 3pm.