Marks makes difference for Desert Edge against Cobras

Senior receiver Plas Johnson cuts to the outside against Desert Edge Oct. 5 in Goodyear. It was Johnson's first game for Cactus after transferring from Kellis in the offseason. [Courtesy Anabel Ortiz/Desert Edge Football]

Chris Caraveo
West Valley Preps

Desert Edge’s decision to throw junior Jihad Marks into the defensive lineup regularly for the first time paid off.

And behind an opportunistic defense, the Scorpions (5-3) won 33-22 over a Cactus Cobras team that failed to capitalize on multiple trips to the red zone.

“Jihad Marks came out and made some huge, huge plays for us on the defensive side of the ball,” Scorpions Coach Jose Lucero said. “It was the first time we tried him out at safety. He kind of turned the momentum. We got rolling and the guys fell in line and started believing. And things worked out for us.”

Marks got the game going as he returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

But it would be a while before the Scorpions’ offense put points on the board.

“It was awesome,” Coach Lucero said about the opening return. “I couldn’t ask for a bigger play to start the game. We kind of stumbled for a little bit from there but then he (Marks) picked us back up and got us back in it.”

Cactus took its first two possessions into the red zone but did not score on either. Junior quarterback Conner Cordts’ pass to sophomore Antonio Pratt on the first drive was short of converting fourth down.

The second drive ended on an incompletion.

“It was miscues and mistakes,” Cobras coach Joseph Ortiz said about the stalled drives. “We keep driving down the field at will and we shoot ourselves in the foot over and over again. It’s been a steady progression throughout the season of the same thing. We drive all the way down the field and we kill ourselves with either a penalty or turnover or a miscommunication on a mental mistake. It cost us today.”

Desert Edge led 7-0 after the first quarter. But Cactus was already on the move. Cordts converted a fourth down on a pass to senior Plas Johnson, who played in his first game of the season after transferring from Kellis. He finished with six offensive touches for 31 yards.

Two plays later Cordts scored from two yards out. Junior halfback Anthony Flores converted the two-point try to give the Cobras the lead.

After the Scorpions went three and out, Cactus drove down the field in 15 plays. Facing another fourth down, Cordts tossed a 5-yard touchdown to senior receiver Zaach Cullop to extend the lead.

But Desert Edge didn’t lay low. On a second and 3, freshman quarterback Adryan Lara passed short to Marks, who turned the play into a 49-yard gain. Inside the 10 on a fourth down Lara found senior tailback Freddy Alvarado in the end zone.

With a tie game, Cordts’ first pass on the ensuing possession was picked off by Marks, who scored from about 30 yards out.

“I can’t really take all the credit for it,” Marks said about the turnover. “The defensive line got penetration, the linebackers forced him inside so I was able to get behind him and get the interception.”

The next Cactus possession almost ended when junior Max Crosner appeared to have intercepted Cordts with the Cobras deep in Scorpions territory. However, the officials ruled the pass incomplete.

But on the next down, Marks picked off Cordts for a second time. Scorpions senior Kennith Powell ran for 44 yards to set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Lara to junior Keith McKaney as the half came to a close.

“I was very impressed,” Marks said about the defensive performance. “We just wanted to come out and work and be resilient after we fell down 14-7.”

The Scorpions opened the second half with a onside-kick like squib and recovered the ball. However, despite getting inside the Cactus 10, Lara threw an interception to Cullop in the end zone.

The Cobras failed to score off the turnover, and Powell took over for the Scorpions. He gained three consecutive first downs off carries of 10-plus yards.

Then on a third 2, 285-pound defensive tackle Nassir Sims ran for a first down, but not without coming off the field with a limp.

“He kind of cramped,” Coach Lucero said. “It was after his run to get a first down. He dove over the pile. I don’t know who he thinks he is. It was pretty funny. He was able to bounce back and played tremendous on defense and then got some big carries for us at the end of the game.”

Powell closed out a 9-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Needing big plays to come back from a 19-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, the Cobras got one thanks to a high snap from the Scorpions center on a punt attempt.

The Cobras pinned the punter inside the 10 and took over on downs. As Cactus took possession, Cullop mishandled the snap but fell on the ball.

A few plays later Cordts escaped a sack and connected with Cullop for a 10-yard score. A 2-point conversion put the game within 11.

The Cobras got the ball back with the Scorpions going three and out. On third and 9, Cordts was sacked for a 9-yard loss. But instead of going for it on fourth, Cactus punted away with less than 7 minutes left.

That possession would be the Cobras’ last.

The Scorpions ran out the rest of the clock behind 20-plus yard gains from Alvarado and Sims. This time, Sims came off the field with the victory.

“Our defensive coordinator, coach Ginny, had a real good game plan from the get go,” Lucero said. “Let me tip off to Cactus, they played a great game. Coach Ortiz called a great game. Our kids came out and made some plays. They started getting pressure on the quarterback at times. We gave them the short stuff and tried to get rid of the big play, and I think that helped us a little bit.”

Coach Ortiz didn’t think there was much to Desert Edge limiting his team on offense. Rather, it was the Cobras own miscues that doomed them in the end.

Cordts continues to recover from an injury that sidelined him earlier in the season but Coach Ortiz said the quarterback should get back into rhythm soon. The junior finished a respectable 22 of 38 passing for 198 yards, 2 touchdowns and the 2 interceptions.

“He’s still shaking the rust off,” Coach Ortiz said. “He’s getting his footwork back. He’s still trying to get his feet under him with the ankle.. He’s keeping his shoulders high, letting the ball float a little bit. That’s just stuff we have to work on coming back from injury and trying to get him better.”

Johnson played his first game for Cactus and should give the Cobras another weapon that will keep opponents from designing game plans strictly to slow down Cullop and junior tailback Anthony Flores, who finished with 17 carries for only 18 yards.

“He’s very explosive. We try to get him in space,” Coach Ortiz said about the senior’s first game. “We were able to do it at times. We were able to throw the ball deep. We kind of missed on some connections here and there. It’s just him getting timing with the quarterback. Hopefully next week we get some better timing with it.”

Desert Edge now controls the West Valley Region and is off next week before an Oct. 19 game at Deer Valley. Cactus hosts Lake Havasu Oct. 12.

“Every game’s a big game we just got to improve and get our playoff seeding up,” Coach Ortiz said about the rest of the season. “This is a playoff team. We’re going to be dangerous. We just need to clean up our mistakes and we’ll be fine.”

Desert Edge junior Jihad Marks reads the Cactus offense. It was his first game playing safety. [Courtesy Anabel Ortiz/Desert Edge Football]

Scoring Summary

Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
Cactus 0 14 0 8 22
Desert Edge 7 20 6 0 33

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