It’s one of the most difficult positions to be in in sports: to get back into the swing of a game after watching a player endure a serious injury.
The only possible positive spin to put on the situation was that Phoenix Thunderbird only had to wait four minutes before shifting their focus back on sophomore running back Kaleb Hofer.
Hofer was tackled by a Goodyear Desert Edge player from the left side of his body, immediately followed by a hit from behind, causing his body to twist awkwardly in the air and looked very still as he hit the grass. He was taken off the field in an ambulance and his condition was unknown.
That was excruciating ending to the otherwise as-expected first round Division III state playoff matchup where Desert Edge defeated Thunderbird 56-26 in Goodyear Friday night. Desert Edge will meet sixth-seeded Surprise Shadow Ridge in next week’s quarterfinals.
No. 3 Desert Edge (11-0) got on the board quickly with three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter from seniors Jordan Jackson and Elijah Marks.
“Elijah gets all the accolades and things like that, but (seniors) C.J. Heard and Jordan Jackson and Tyler Grittman do a great job, and then we put (senior linebacker) Ismael (Murphy-Richardson) on offense for the first time all year too,” Desert Edge head coach Rich Wellbrock said. “We’ve got some special kids that can do those things.”
Despite the hot start, Thunderbird (7-4) answered with a methodical drive down field and ending in a touchdown to start the second. Hofer, who took a majority of the carries for Thunderbird before the injury, set up a quarterback keeper by bringing the ball to the 1-yard line.
On the next drive, Desert Edge fumbled and made this game look like it might be a little more competitive.
“There were some moments there in the first half where I thought we could have delivered some knockout blows and instead of knockout blows, we gave them some life,” Wellbrock said.
Thunderbird did not capitalize on the turnover, as was the case with most of Desert Edge’s mistakes. Desert Edge would score on the next drive on a 30-yard catch-and-run by Jackson. The game was 35-13 Desert Edge at the half.
The second half was a series of creative plays by Thunderbird that went wrong, like a failed onside kick, and a wildcat featuring Adam Turner that was intercepted. On a brighter note, Turner was on the receiving end of two wide-open touchdowns in the game.
Going into next week’s matchup with Shadow Ridge, Wellbrock says he wants to focus on consistency.
“Both sides of the ball,” Wellbrock said. “It’s that time of year where a bounce here, a tip there is the way things play out.”