The Sunrise Mountain Mustangs came out of the gate hot this year, starting the season off with a 48-7 win over the Cactus Cobras. In a year where a lot of teams are dealing with rust, the Mustangs looked fairly well-composed on the field against an incredibly young Cobra team.
On the first snap of his young career, and the first of the game, sophomore quarterback Will Galvan was picked off by senior Micah Scott. The interception set up senior running back Tommy Arnold for an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Mustangs on top early 7-0.
Things looked to be slightly more promising for Galvan to start the next drive, getting the Cobras down to the red zone, but Sunrise Mountain senior Steven Hoffmann intercepted the ball, running it back 85-yards for a touchdown.
“We hit the film room hard,” Hoffman said. “We knew it was coming before it even came.”
Cactus looked to find some momentum on the ground, driving it the end zone in two snaps. Junior running back Gabriel Reyes ran the ball for a 47-yard gain on the first play, followed up by a 23-yard quarterback keeper by Galvan for a touchdown with about 2:30 left in the first.
Sunrise was able to keep chipping away at the lead in the second quarter with two more touchdowns. The first came on a one-yard run from Arnold, and the second on a 30-yard pass to senior wide receiver Ezekiel Marshall. Going into the half, Sunrise Mountain held a 28-7 lead that they’d only continue to build on as the night continued.
The Mustangs got the ball to start the second half and the momentum that they carried with them into halftime remained with them when they lined back up on the field. In less than three minutes, Ward was able to move the ball down and take it into the end one himself to extend the lead to 35-7.
Meanwhile for Cactus, struggles continued as sophomore running back Damien Jiles fumbled the ball on the first play of the drive, turning it over to the Mustangs at their own 38-yard line. After converting on a huge fourth down to keep the drive alive, Ward found Marshall for another touchdown, this time a nine-yard pass, to extend the lead to 42-7 with just under seven minutes left in the third.
In the fourth, Ward also connected with Chase Birdsong for a 44-yard touchdown pass in the fourth to close things out for the Mustangs with a final score of 48-7.
Sunrise Mountain head coach Steve Decker said that the 18 returning veteran players really made a difference.
“They’ve been here, and some of them have been starting since their sophomore year. So even though we didn’t have a scrimmage, we didn’t have a spring or summer, these guys stepped up and it was really great to see,” Decker said.
Overall, Ward completed eight of 18 passes for 149 yards for Sunrise Mountain while Galvan, who struggled greatly in the second half, completed nine of 22 passes for 85 yards for Cactus.
Both teams really attacked the ground game hard, though, with the Mustangs rushing for more than 170 yards and the Cobras rushing for nearly 190.
Hoffman said for the Mustangs, it was inspiring just to get back on the field and do what they love.
“We practice hard, we’ve hit the film room, we’ve been running around sprinting, it was just a blast out here having fun,” Hoffman said.”
However, for Cactus, there were a lot of unfortunate mistakes and penalties, making it a rough learning curve for the young Cobra team. However, the experience will certainly prove to be beneficial in the long run,
“That’s a defense that’s experienced,” Cactus Head Coach Joseph Ortiz said. “I told them they’ve got to mature quickly. We don’t have time to wait. We have our rivals next weekend.
Cactus plays Peoria next week in a crucial rivalry game against Peoria. Coach Ortiz knows they have a lot to improve on in the next week of practice before taking the field against the Panthers, but he thinks as time continues, this team will grow into something special.
“I think you guys can see the discrepancy with numbers too,” Coach Ortiz said, relating to the difference between a 4A school like Cactus and a 5A school like Sunrise Mountain. “They have 1,000 more kids than us.”
Meanwhile for Sunrise Mountain, they’ll open up at home next week against the Mesquite Wildcats, the reigning 4A state champs.