Best in the West 2020: Cactus 4A Championship Preview

4A Championship: #4 Cactus (Glendale) vs. #3 Mesquite (Gilbert)

Cactus believes they should have been playing in the 2019 4A State Championship Game. They believe their two-point conversion in the closing seconds of their semifinal match last year against Mesquite was good, which could have earned them a spot in the 4A State Championship, where Mesquite won their first program state title. But what is done is done. And naturally, Mesquite and Cactus collide again on the biggest stage.

Since their last meeting, Mesquite’s five-star quarterback, Ty Thompson, made his commitment to play at the University of Oregon following the conclusion of his senior year. Thompson has turned himself into arguably one of the greatest QBs in the state. Prior to their semifinal showdown against ALA Queen Creek last Friday, Thompson had accumulated 2,831 pass yards and 28 touchdowns in just seven games. The Wildcats have also earned some respect with their run game as Thompson and two other Wildcats have averaged nearly 40 rush yards per game each.

The Cactus defense will be staring at a leaner and meaner version of the Ty Thompson they saw last year, who threw for a whopping 354 yards in the 2019 semifinals. Another change this season is Thompson’s multitude of offensive weapons to throw to, led by Eric Lira and Andrew Morris. Thompson has thrown just four interceptions in 237 pass attempts. 

When an offense is led by sophomores, expectations usually aren’t a journey to the state title game. In the case of Cactus, quarterback, Will Galvan, and running back, Damian Jiles, have electrified the field nearly every time they step on it. While also taking snaps on defense, Galvan was planned to move from quarterback to wide receiver midway through the year. But the sophomore’s performance over the first few games was too good to remove him from the backfield. Galvan has thrown for over 1,000 yards in his first year playing quarterback on the varsity roster while rushing for another 270. Jiles has racked up 677 rush yards and is second in carries, only behind Galvan.

Cactus loves to share the love on offense, 11 different players have found the endzone multiple times while other players like Antonio Pratt and Justin Gomez have also scored on defense. Oh, and keep an eye out for potential trick plays. Five different players have completed a pass at the quarterback position this year.

Defensively, Holmes has been a monster. The junior has racked up 16 tackles for loss, 92 tackles, and six sacks. But it’s not a one-man effort. His fellow men on the front line of the defense, such as Ethan Price, Riley Davies, Vincent Burgo, and even two-way linemen like Mason Cullop, have formed a defensive line that is formidable from end to end. This crew has allowed Holmes to often capitalize on the opposing offense’s indecisiveness. Ata Teutupe, Andy Morales, and Joseph Lagafuaina is part of a secondary that allows the defensive line time to attack the backfield. A name to watch on both offense and defense is junior Chaparral transfer, Aki Pulu, who in just six games for Cactus has earned a pick-six, seven rush touchdowns, 64 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions.

Another important aspect of this game will be special teams. In last year’s meeting, the two teams combined for five two-point conversion attempts, with both teams failing once, and each team missed an extra point. Cactus head coach, Joseph Ortiz is the fifth different head coach since the program’s inception in 1978 but in just his third season is looking for his first state championship since arriving from Higley in 2018.

Either team can win this game. Mesquite is looking to go back-to-back, to earn their second program state title, while Cactus looks for redemption from last year’s state semifinal in the form of their third program state title and their first since 2009. The 4A State Championship Game takes place on Friday at 7 p.m. at Highland High School in Gilbert.

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