The Cactus Cobras made a late-game comeback to end the regular season with a 20-14 victory Friday over rival Peoria High in 4A football.
The Panthers took a 14-0 lead into halftime, behind stellar defense and several big plays from senior receiver Jovon Scott. Scott had three receptions for over 100 yards in the first half, including an 85-yard touchdown in the first quarter to open the scoring.
In the second half the defense tightened up. Defensive linemen began getting a better push at the front, and shut the Panthers out in the second half.
“It gave our corners better time to defend him and we got a few sacks from it, so that was great,” said junior defensive tackle Ethan Price.
On offense, the Cobras could not move the ball initially. Quarterback Conner Cordts was being harassed every time he dropped back, and a potent defensive line stuffed nearly every running play at the line of scrimmage.
But coach Joseph Ortiz said the offensive staff came up with a slightly new game plan at halftime to hopefully gain more yards and put some points on the board.
“We changed up some blocking schemes, we told them we just have got to execute, we had a lot of drops in the first half. And we eliminated that in the second half and we were able to make some big plays in the air,” he said.
But, things looked about the same for the Cactus offense in the beginning of the third quarter. Peoria was still dominating the line of scrimmage. However, the Cobras picked up the pace, and finally got on the scoreboard with a five-yard touchdown run from senior Anthony Flores.
The Cobras got the ball back a few minutes later on their own two-yard-line. Cordts completed five passes for 96 yards, and slammed the ball in himself for a two-yard score. A a deflected pass on the two-point attempt kept Cactus from tying the game.
Cactus defense recorded another stop on the next defensive drive. Senior linebacker Nate Quinones sacked Peoria quarterback Kyle Samford on third down, and blocked the ensuing punt to give the Cobras excellent field position. They capitalized with a touchdown, but failed to convert the two-point conversion.
Those kinds of plays are exactly what Ortiz has come to expect from Quinones, as well as his twin brother Nicc, who also made several impactful tackles and had some long offensive carries as a fill-in running back.
“They’ve been doing that all year. I’m so happy for them, and they were able to play their hearts out and make some big plays at the end,” Ortiz said.
A few plays later, Cordts and threw a dart to receiver TJ Rucker, who ran into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown to take the lead. Cordts had bought an extra few key seconds for himself to make the throw from moving around the pocket to avoid the heavy pass rush from the Panthers.
“The escapability I bring kind of helps because I try to keep the play alive the best that I can. I don’t just take the sack or throw it away,” Cordts said.
Cactus forced a turnover-on-downs, and had the ball left with about three minutes remaining, trying to run the clock out. But, Peoria was able to get itback with 48 seconds on the clock. An incomplete pass, short run, incomplete pass and a sack on fourth down ended the offensive drive, and Cactus was able to kneel the final seconds off the clock.
Ortiz took a second to reflect on a big win over the team’s bitter rival.
“I’m just so proud of these kids because they worked so hard to get to this point, and for me personally getting the first win over Peoria being at Cactus is a great feeling,” he said.
Amid the celebration, Cactus (8-2) is now thinking about its playoff seed. It knew the result of this game between two highly-ranked squads would have an impact.
“Coach Ortiz has definitely talked about it. This game could have dropped us really bad, or it could have brought us up to a possible 2 or 3 seed in the 4A playoffs,” Cordts said.
The 4A bracket release show is set for Saturday morning. The team said it will watch together online, anxiously waiting to see if it will host a game in the 4A postseason. Both boasting 8-2 records, both Cactus and Peoria will likely find themselves in the 16-team bracket.
PEO – Scott 85 pass from Samford (Franco kick), 4:30
PEO – Mack 2 run (Franco kick), 1:02
CAC – Flores 5 run (kick missed), 1:59
CAC – Cordts 2 run (pass incomplete), 7:09
CAC – Rucker 44 pass from Cordts (run successful), 3:3