Cactus vs. Mesquite football opener is replay of 4A title game

Didn’t we just watch this movie?

Mesquite High School and Cactus High last took the football field to play each other in the 2020 4A state championship game, which Mesquite won.  Tomorrow night, the two teams are back at it again, this time opening the season instead of closing it.

The game, which will be played in the Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, will be one of the must-see games of Week 1.  It’s a heated rivalry in 4A and a match-up that has frustrated Cactus for the past two seasons — and provides plenty of motivation in tomorrow’s game.

Mesquite beat the Cobras in the 2019 state semifinals, and then again last season in the championship game.  Both contests were thrillers that weren’t decided until the final minutes.

Cactus dominated its opponents in the 2019 playoffs, winning its first two games by a combined score of 77-13, before losing the semifinal game to Mesquite by the slimmest of margins, 27-28.

In last season’s run through the state playoffs, Cactus again rolled over its first two opponents with 41-7 and 35-13 victories and had a full head of steam going into the title game.  Again, the Glendale school came within minutes of squeezing out a win, but once more fell short by a single point, 39-38.

Tomorrow night’s game will be a chance for Cactus to break free from two years of mounting  frustration.

And, on paper at least, it appears to be an opportune time to test their rival.  Mesquite will be without last year’s starting quarterback, Ty Thompson, who will be in an Oregon Ducks’ uniform this season.

Thompson, a five-star recruit who was Arizona’s top prospect in last year’s recruiting class, led the Wildcats to back-to-back titles.  Now, coach Scott Hare will have to break in a new QB.  But the new guy will have a talented receiver to count on to help pile up the yardage.

Andrew Morris is back for his senior year after compiling 1,888 yards on 116 receptions since his freshman year at the Gilbert high school.

Morris, who has also been a standout linebacker the last two seasons, will be anchoring a defense on a team that won 10 games last season, in part by holding opponents to an average 24 points a game.

But Cactus has been maturing with each season since Joseph Ortiz took over as head coach in 2018.  The 2020 roster included just eight seniors, but this year, there are 24 seniors ready to play.

That veteran leadership, combined with Mesquite’s loss of a five-star quarterback to graduation, just may prove to be the key to finally getting past the Wildcats on the way to a state title.

And, after a couple of one-point losses in the biggest games of the year, the Cobras have plenty of motivation.