Rich Wellbrock's trust in Desert Edge pays off

Rich Wellbrock's trust in Desert Edge pays off

News

Rich Wellbrock's trust in Desert Edge pays off

By

Rich Wellbrock’s voice is hoarse, which is sort of a permanent thing for him during the high school football season.

Wellbrock’s volume control always is on high during Goodyear Desert Edge’s games. He’s constantly exhorting his players, talking with officials and imploring the crowd to raise their voices. His sideline antics alone are worth the price of admission.

Yet when Desert Edge found itself trailing Scottsdale Saguaro 21-3 at halftime Friday in a Division III quarterfinal game, Wellbrock restrained himself. He didn’t scream at his team in the locker room or topple any chairs. Rather, he simply told the Scorpions to “do their thing.”

See, Wellbrock knew something much of the high school community doesn’t: There is some good football played in the West Valley.

“Nobody gave us a shot here,” Wellbrock said after Desert Edge’s remarkable, come-from-behind 38-35 victory.

Well, there’s good reason for that. Desert Edge may have been 11-0 and the No. 1 seed in Division III, but this was Saguaro, winners of five state championships in the past six years. Plus, there was the general perception that East Valley football is superior to the brand played on the west side.

There’s some truth to that, of course. Look at the list of big-school state champions every year. Since 2006, Peoria Centennial is the only true west-side school to celebrate at the end of the season.

That history — and Saguaro’s reputation — didn’t faze Desert Edge, though. If anything, it drove the Scorpions to prove that they weren’t the figment of a soft schedule and regional favoritism.

“We use a lot of things as motivation around here,” Wellbrock said. “I don’t know how people perceive us and right now, I really don’t care. I’ll make it real simple: Our kids just don’t care. They love playing the game and they’re going to show up every Friday night.”

Desert Edge took a while to show up Friday. Its first-half offense essentially consisted of quarterback Sawyer Lung throwing long passes and hoping his receivers would run under them. Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer, meanwhile, was beating Desert Edge’s defense with his legs and arm; he eventually would complete 20 of 26 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns and also run the ball 19 times for 68 yards and a score.

The game was over — or at least it sure seemed that way.

But then the second half started and Desert Edge showed up. Lung’s bombs started finding Elijah Marks and Ismael Murphy-Richardson — Marks caught a 56-yard touchdowns on the first play of the second half — Kyle Woolard ran 48 yards for a touchdown and, with 70 seconds remaining, the defense recovered a Rubenzer fumble inside the 10-yard line to save the game and the season.

“We had some lows in the first half and pretty nice highs in the second,” Wellbrock said. “We knew adversity was going to hit but then Elijah gave us a little bit of a spark and away we go.”

After telling his players they earned an extra hour’s rest of Saturday morning before coming into work, Wellbrock met with the media. He answered questions about the game for a few minutes before asking who had won the Williams Field-Peoria Liberty game; the winner would play Desert Edge in the semifinals.

When told it was Williams Field, Wellbrock’s hoarse voice got even louder.

“I guarantee you the East Valley will make sure we’re the underdogs again,” he said. “That’s OK. We’re good with that. We’ll wear that.”

It fit Desert Edge perfectly Friday. Win two more games, and the Scorpions won’t have to deal with any snide remarks about the west side.

They’ll be football royalty.

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.

More USA TODAY High School Sports