Injury-ravaged Cactus digs deep against Mingus

Cactus junior Diego Lopez (#53) and Wyatt Holsclaw (#51) help starting quarterback Mahal Lee off the field against Mingus after Lee injured his shoulder. [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

By George Witkowski
For West Valley Preps

Just when it couldn’t get any worse for the Cactus Cobras Friday night, adversity struck once again and the Cobras were able to answer the bell in resounding fashion.

After first-half injuries to its first- and second-string quarterbacks, senior Mahal Lee (shoulder) and sophomore Connor Cordts. Cordts’ foot hit the ground awkwardly on a 37-yard field goal attempt five seconds before the first half ended.

The Cobras (3-0) opened the second half with another injury – a broken femur to junior defensive end Eric Rick, who was carted off and underwent surgery Friday night at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Yet Cactus (3-0) found a way to overcome the odds with a 42-25 win over 0-3 Cottonwood Mingus.

“It was just everything,” he said. “I thought they played their butts off. To say the least this was a draining game, but fortunately, we came out on the points-ahead side. Things were going good (Cactus led 14-6), and poof…” Cactus Coach Larry Fetkenhier said.

It was a retribution of sorts for the Cobras after losing 35-28 at Mingus in 2016 to drop to 1-2.

Cobras’ senior running back Damaria Norris pulled it together along with the offense and defense to help the Cobras remain unbeaten. Norris and junior running back Jordan Ollarsaba each filled in at quarterback, giving the Cobras a total of four signal callers used.

In a tight 28-25 contest after three quarters, Cactus pulled away with fourth quarter touchdowns of 14 and 49 yards from Norris.

Fetkenhier had to be thinking, ‘What next?’ when he saw his players go down. However, he was proud of the way his team pulled it together.

“He (Norris) is who he is,” Cactus Coach Larry Fetkenhier said.

Norris was just glad his teammates came together when it was needed.

“It was a big surprise and we knew we had to keep it going,” Norris said. “It was all O-line (to open holes for Norris) and it was an uphill battle. It was a matter of how bad we wanted it and I was gassed, but the more we wanted to just get first downs.

“We wanted it for each other and our motto is, Three More Breaths. Meaning, just give it your all, even when you’re down. We have full trust in our coach to find a way to win. He says, ‘No matter what, the really good teams find a way to win and that showed tonight.’”

After Mingus opened the scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run from junior Alex Nelson, (the extra point was no good), the Cobras came right back with a one-yard touchdown run from Lee as the extra point made it 7-6.

Senior Isaac Gilliam made a habit of returning punts for long yardage and set up Cactus at Mingus’ 35-yard line. The Cobras got a pass of 19 yards from Lee to Norris and 16-yard touchdown run from Norris to take a 14-6 lead with 5 seconds left in the first quarter.

Sophomore wide receiver Payton Arsenault was on the receiving end of a 40-yard touchdown pass from Lee, as Mingus blocked the point-after, making it 20-6.

Mingus came right back on a 57-yard touchdown run from senior running back Tyler Kelly. Kelly rushed for 116 yards by halftime, to Norris’ 73 yards on the ground.

Kelly opened the second-half with a kickoff return to the Cactus 33, but all the attention focused on Rick’s femur injury, which had stopped the game for 45 minutes, before he was driven off by ambulance.

Mingus pulled within a point on a touchdown run, but the point-after was missed.

The Cobras retaliated when senior strong safety Jake Russett intercepted a pass and ran 65 for the score. The conversion run came from sophomore running back Anthony Flores. Cactus put the game away with Norris’ touchdown runs.

Cactus is at home for a 7 p.m. Sept. 15 against Cactus Shadows.

Cactus senior tailback Damaria Norris breaks free from the Mingus defense Sept. 8. [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

1  2  3   4     F

Mingus –   6 13 6    0 – 25

Cactus – 14   6  8 14 –  42


M – Alex Nelson 8 run (kick failed)

C – Mahal Lee 1 run (Connor Cordts kick)

C – Damaria Norris 16 run (Cordts kick)

C – Payton Arsenault 40 pass from Lee (kick blocked)

M – Tyler Kelly 57 run (Chaz Taylor kick)

M – Antoine Zabala 1 run (kick failed)

C – Jake Russett 65 interception return (Anthony Flores run)

M – Kelly 77 run (run failed)

C – Damaria Norris 14 run (Norris run)

C – Norris 49 run (run failed)


M – Kelly had 231 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

C – Norris rushed for 209 yards with three touchdowns. Also, Russett had a 65-yard interception returned for a touchdown.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.