As Moon Valley players celebrated the school's first state title in 22 years and the biggest comeback in
state championship history, Glendale Cactus players could only look on in stunned silence, wondering what had just happened.
weren't a lot of answers for what happened to No. 2 Cactus on Saturday in the Class 4A championship game at Sun Devil Stadium
in Tempe. The Cobras simply imploded.
Leading 34-6 at halftime, Cactus (12-2) looked like a lock to win its first state
title under coach Larry Fetkenhier, but the second half was a horror show. Four lost fumbles, one interception on offense
and 278 yards allowed by the defense. Not to mention the 39 unanswered points Moon Valley (14-0) scored in the 45-34 victory.
"We just lost it," Cactus
running back Richard Morris said. "We thought we had it won and didn't come out to play in the second half."
LaDarius Howard, the defense's emotional leader, echoed Morris' thoughts.
"We didn't come out fired up in the second
half," he said. "I don't know why."
Last year, Cactus suffered a hard-fought 21-13 setback to Tucson Sunnyside in the
title game. Saturday's championship defeat was much different.
Cactus did everything right in the first half. Morris
racked up 117 yards on the ground. Quarterback Jonathan Tobin completed clutch pass after clutch pass.
And the defense
put Moon Valley's high-octane offense in the freezer, allowing only 104 total yards and forcing three turnovers.
second half was a disaster. Morris couldn't find any running room and gained only 23 yards on eight carries. Tobin overthrew
open receivers, or had well-thrown balls dropped, on his way to a 3-for-13 performance in the second half with one interception.
And the defense that played so well in the first half had no answers in the second, as Moon Valley quarterback Brian
Wriston threw for touchdowns on four of his six completions.
Fetkenhier, 0-4 in state championship games, said the
difference between the second half and the first was simple.
"It was the turnovers," he said. "I'm not sure how many
we had exactly, but you can't give a school like that any opportunities.
"Hat's off to those guys. They battled back
from being down like that, and they're the state champions."
Tobin, who a week earlier said his dream since his freshman
year had been to lead Cactus to a title, spent last year's title game on the sideline.
He said Saturday's loss would
be much harder to deal with.
"There is no comparison," he said. "You just can't do it."