Desert Ridge claims first semifinal berth, defeats Gilbert

November 19, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

The battle of double-digit seeds in the 5A-I state football playoffs belonged to the team on a major roll -- the Desert Ridge Jaguars.

Quarterback Jordan Becerra ran for three touchdowns and passsed for another and backfield mate Joey Counts added a pair touchdowns as the 10th-seeded Jaguars knocked off sister school and No. 15 seed Gilbert High, 49-22, in a quarterfinal game at Desert Ridge.

Desert Ridge (9-3) earned its first semifinal berth in school history and won its seventh consecutive game in the process. The Jaguars were denied semifinal berths in 2007 and 2008 by Centennial when they were members of 5A-II. Desert Ridge next faces No. 3 Desert Vista, a 34-20 winner over Salpointe, on Dec. 3 at a site to be determined

Becerra, who has stepped in for injured quarterback Parker Rasmussen the past few weeks, rushed for 192 yards on 23 carries. Counts wasn't far behind with 129 yards on 18 rushes. Most of that offense came in the final three periods as Gilbert (6-7) had things going its way the first quarter and change.

Gilbert, in fact, led 8-7 after the first period and even spotted Desert Ridge a quick touchdown after Becerra returned the opening kickoff 64 yards to set up the Jaguars at the Gilbert 25. The first of Counts two touchdown runs a few plays later made it 7-0.

Gilbert, which has thrived on the ground late in the season, started fast that way again. The Tigers piled up 96 yards rushing in the first period although they took their only lead on a 36-yard TD pass from Nathaniel Causey to Drew Stankiewicz with 5:07 left in the opening period. That score came after a bad snap forced Becerra to fall on the ball in his own end zone and take a safety. a 30-yard run by Greg Esquibel set up the TD pass.

"They surprised us with a stack," Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said of Gilbert's defensive strategy. "It was effective. We made some changes and after we learned how to block it we got things going."

Desert Ridge's defense also became a factor forcing a fumble, ending a Gilbert drive in Desert Ridge territory on downs and intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown. Those three series turned the 8-7 deficit to a 27-8 hafltime lead. The interception return was from 40 yards out as lineman Alex Barrett picked off a Causey screen pass and took it the distance.

"I have to credit Desert Ridge a bunch," Gilbert coach Dan Dunn said. "They changed some things and made it hard for our kids to adjust. ... We didn't seem to have that vigor we had last week. That's our job to get that, but it wasn't there."

Gilbert turned the ball over four times; Desert Ridge just once. Desert Ridge converted three of Gilbert's miscues into touchdowns and the other, the Tigers first of the game, stopped a drive that had reached the Desert Ridge 12.

Desert Ridge finished the game with 307 yards rushing, not as good as last week's 462, but plenty good to earn a spot in the semis. The Tigers ended up with 127 yards rushing and only one 10-yard run or more after the first period. Desert Ridge's three-touchdown lead at halftime forced Gilbert to pass mode pretty much the rest of the game.