Mustangs defense continues dominance, shutting out Cactus

After reversing his field twice, Cactus senior running back tries to fend off Sunrise Mountain junior linebacker Hunter Olson in the third quarter Oct. 6. The Mustangs tackled Norris for a 6-yard loss on the play. [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Cactus may have entered its intra-district and region showdown at Sunrise Mountain in the No. 1 spot in the AIA 4A power rankings.

However, for the fourth straight year, the Mustangs are the clear top team in the West Valley region. As Friday’s 54-0 shellacking showed, the gap is only growing.

Sunrise Mountain (6-1, 2-0) jumped on Cactus (6-1, 1-1) from the opening drive. Unlike the shootouts common in previous years of this rivalry, the Cobras could not come close to answering against a relentless defense that barely allowed more than 100 yards of total offense.

“Everything, I think, kind of flows through our defense. They get stops and put us in great field position. It allows us to get things going and it snowballs for us. The defense definitely set the tone,” Sunrise Mountain Coach Steve Decker said.

To do so, the Mustangs put the clamps on star tailback Damaria Norris, who entered the game averaging 185 yards per game and scored 15 rushing touchdowns in the past three weeks.

Apart from a 30-yard burst in early in the third quarter, Norris rarely reached the line of scrimmage before he had to avoid multiple tacklers. He finished with 48 yards on 20 carries.

“We watched film for the first few days, kind of recognizing what he was doing. In practice our scout team ran it, and we got used to the plays.

Yet Norris was more successful than his offensive teammates, also leading the Cobras with 28 receiving yards on two catches. I’m real proud of our guys for shutting him down. We did a great job,” senior linebacker Gavin Chaddock said.

Senior quarterback Mahal Lee returned last week against Peoria but did not look at full strength this night. He alternated taking the snaps with Norris, who often directed the offense out of Wildcat and spread formations.

“Our defensive coordinators, Bobby Ramirez and Jerry Cravens, put in a ton of time on a great game plan.  But the biggest thing was how the kids executed what they were teaching all week. We knew he is a phenomenal back and that’s a great program. We had to play for quarters and not take one play off. You take a play off on him and he’s to the house,” Decker said.

Conversely, Sunrise Mountain was able to spread its playmakers across the field and confound the Cactus defense. Even without injured leading rusher Drake Flores, the offense remained balanced an unpredictable.

Junior quarterback Keegan Freid connected three times with senior wide receiver Angel Ruiz on the first drive of the game, the final completion was for a 14-yard touchdown.

Before the first quarter ended, the home team gobbled up more yards and Ruiz scored again — technically on a pass. Fried threw a shovel pass to Ruiz with blockers deployed as they would be on a sweep.

It was 14-0 after the seven-yard scoring play.

If there was a play of the game in such a lopsided contest, Freid made it — and got a little lucky — in the second quarter.

Facing first down and 25 from the Cobras’ 30, the first-year starter avoided a blitz and reversed his field, scrambling for nearly 10 seconds. He then looked for senior receiver James Hansen deep.

The pass was short but a Cactus defensive back bobbled it twice and Hanson grabbed it in midair to complete a touchdown pass. That gave Sunrise Mountain a 21-0 lead it would take until halftime, after stopping the Cobras on fourth down from the Mustangs’ 25 and missing a field goal.

“That’s tough (for them) to come back from. He stretches plays out for us. That’s tough on a defense,” Decker said.

Lee fumbled on the second play of the second half and senior defensive end Jake Radan recovered it at the Cobras’ 49. Fried took advantage of a blown coverage two plays later, tossing a 38-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Hansen.

Now trailing 27-0, Cactus Coach Larry Fetkenhier called eight straight runs for Norris, including the 30-yarder. But this drive also stalled inside the 30 and the rout was on.

Ruiz caught a Fried’s pass for 33 yards, then scored on a 31-yard fly sweep on the next play.

Before the quarter ended junior Jay Anderson, who has filled in for part of Flores’ role along with senior Derick Bangle, scored on a similar toss fly sweep, from 5 yards out.

Then Chaddock capped a 26-point quarter with his 47-yard interception return.

“It’s great to have a shut down defense. You know we’re always reliable. Getting those fourth down stops and turnovers gives us short fields and creates good spots for our offense,” Chaddock said.

Fried tacked on a fourth quarter rushing touchdown from five yards out. He finished the night with four touchdowns and 249 yards on 16 completions on 20 attempts.

Cactus has to get over this result quickly with another trip to one of the top teams in 4A, Gilbert Higley, looming next week.

“We’ve got to get healthy. As the head coach, I need to have my team prepared better than it was tonight,” Fetkenhier said.

If anything, the agonizing 24-21 loss at Scottsdale Saguaro on Sept. 22 has made this team only more determined.

Decker said it is paying dividends already, and down the road will help more than an ego-inflating win might have.

“That’s a loss that you learn from. It keeps you hungry and I think they’re playing that was for sure,” Decker said.

Sunrise Mountain senior wide receiver Angel Ruiz turns the corner while senior tackle Jaelon Luten seeks a Cactus player to block Oct. 6 at Sunrise Mountain [Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]

Cactus                       0   0    0  0  –    0

Sunrise Mountain    14   7  26  7 –   54


SM – Angel Ruiz 14 pass from Keegan Freid (Freid run)

SM – Ruiz 7 pass from Freid (run failed)

SM – James Hansen 30 pass from Freid (Jackson Meskimen kick)

SM – Hansen 38 pass from Freid (pass failed)

SM – Ruiz 31 run (kick blocked)

SM – Jay Anderson 5 run (Meskimen kick)

SM – Gavin Chaddock 47 interception return (Meskimen kick)

SM – Freid 5 run (Meskimen kick)


C – On two consecutive second quarter plays, senior linebacker Noah Gibson teamed up with junior defensive back Bobby Lipsey on a sack and pressured Freid with Scott Jones, leading to senior defensive end Jared Easton’s sack.

SM – Freid completed 16 or 20 passes for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding a late rushing touchdown. Ruiz caught 6 passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns and used for 39 yards and another score.

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