Playing without its leading running back, Mesa Desert Ridge showed no ill effects as they cruised to a 40-7 Division I victory over Anthem Boulder Creek Friday at Boulder Creek High School.
The victory gives Desert Ridge their best record in school history, as they finish the season at 9-1.
“This was the best season we have had at this school and the kids really wanted to close this season with a win tonight,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said.
Playing without starting running back J.J. Husar, who is done for the season after surgery this week, was replaced by Nathaniel Rodriguez, who stepped up and led Desert Ridge with 186 yards on 10 carries in helping lead a dominating offense.
“I knew that with (Husar) out I had to step it up tonight, and the offensive line really did a great job for me,” Rodriguez said. “I had some huge holes to get through and they really got a great push up front for me.”
Starting quarterback Tarek Morrison also stepped up, accounting for four touchdowns, connecting on touchdown passes of 39 and 14 yards, and adding a pair of rushing touchdowns, in the win.
“We really wanted to come in here and run it as much as we could, then hit them with a pass,” Morrison said. “The line gave me all the time I needed when I did pass and I connected on a couple.”
Desert Ridge’s defense struck first late in the first quarter when Shay Real stripped the ball from Boulder Creek (6-4) quarterback Gunther Johnson’s hands and raced 15 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game.
“Our defense came up huge and that first score really gave us a push,” Hathcock said. “We really were our own worst enemy this game with penalties (11 for 77 yards), but the defense really played strong and the offense did what we wanted them to do.”
Both teams struggled to get their offenses rolling early, as Boulder Creek held the Desert Ridge offense out of the end zone until late in the second quarter.
After two short runs gave Desert Ridge the ball at the Boulder Creek 39, Morrison dropped back and hit a crossing pattern to Danny Siaumau, who cut outside and raced into the end zone with five minutes left in the first half.
“We finally got our offense moving and the kids started to execute it well (in the second quarter),” Hathcock said. “(Morrison) and (Rodriguez) moved the ball down the field and then Morrison scored when we needed it.”
After stopping Boulder Creek on four downs, Desert Ridge marched from its own 12 to the Boulder Creek 9-yard line, where Morrison took a snap and raced 9 yards up the middle to give Desert Ridge a 20-0 halftime lead.
“We knew that we had to do today and the kids really stepped up when we needed them to,” Hathcock said. “(Rodriguez) really stepped up and this was the first time he had played running back for us this season.”
Rodriguez, who had 174 of his 186 yards in the first half, broke off runs of 47 and 82 yards, but did not get into the end zone.
“I just wanted to set up our offense and when you have the best line in the state, which I think we do, it made my job a lot easier to break off the runs when I did,” Rodriguez said. “It was important for us to finish this year with a win and we did that tonight.”
Desert Ridge finished with 492 yards offense, with 351 of it coming on the ground. Along with Rodriguez, Morrison finished with 99 yards and two touchdown runs and Siaumau added 50 yards rushing, 127 yards receiving and two touchdown catches.
“Now we just wait and see what we will have next week,” Hathcock said. “We are section champs for the first time and look forward to continue playing in the playoffs.”