Cactus HS dominates 4A football…but can it win in Open Division?

OK, so the Cobras didn’t score 50 points this time.  But they didn’t need their high-octane  offense to be able to continue their unbeaten football streak.

Cactus High School had scored at least 50 points in each of its first five  games on the 2021 schedule, but fell just short of that mark in its 42-14 victory over Desert Edge HS on Friday night.

But, to be fair, the only thing that kept the Cobras from the half-century mark were three turnovers that included a fumble in the end zone.

The Cobras are like a team possessed this season after making it to the 2019 semifinals in the 4A playoffs before losing by a single point, and then coming back last season to advance all the way to the championship game — only to lose again by a single point.  They are on a mission of redemption  this season.

The Glendale school has a game plan to avoid any of those razor-thin losses.  It’s really quite simple: they just don’t let any team get that close to them, averaging an unbelievable 44-point margin per game.

Desert Edge came the closest to breaking the winning streak, but it wasn’t really close; they were only able to get to within 28 points of the Cobras.  The Scorpions are one of just two schools to score in double digits against Cactus; the other was Bradshaw Mountain HS which put 13 points on the board in the third game — but still lost by 43 points.

The Cobras are the very definition of dominance this season.  Their wake of demoralized victims even includes a couple of 5A teams.

Fourth-year head coach, Joseph Ortiz, has returned the Cactus program to the glory days when his predecessor, Larry Fetkenhier, took the Cobras to seven appearances in the state championship game and won two of those titles.

There was considerable consternation among the fan base when Fetkenhier, who had been the Cactus head coach for 33 years, was let go after the 2017 season.  He finished his career at Cactus with an overall record of 316-96-3 and had become one of just seven high school coaches in Arizona to reach 300 wins.

The school administrators said at the time that they had “decided to go in a different direction” by changing coaches.  Right now, it appears the new direction is working.

Beating Desert Edge gave this year’s team a sense of legitimacy it hadn’t earned earlier in the schedule.  The Scorpions were 4-1 coming into the game and had been averaging 42 points a game.  Their only loss was an overtime decision to Horizon HS, which is undefeated after five games and considered a legitimate contender for a state title this season.

Desert Edge was led by a senior quarterback who has a chance this season of breaking the state passing record.  But the Cobras’ aggressive defense intercepted Adryan Lara, who will go on to play at Washington State next season, five times and held the Scorpions scoreless in the second half.

It’s almost certain that Cactus will be among the eight teams invited at season’s end to play in the Open Division championship, which includes teams from the three top conferences playing in head-to-head competition for the state’s biggest prize, rather than competing for their conference title.

That would mean Coach Ortiz would have a tough decision to make.  He has his best chance since taking over the program of securing that 4A state title that has been eluding the Cobras the last two seasons.  There are no more teams left on the schedule that would pose a real challenge, so a No. 1 seed in the 4A playoffs is a good probability.

So, would he give up that opportunity to test his team against the best of the best, which is always a big temptation for any coach?

Or will the Cobras opt for what appears to be a lock to bring home a gold ball in their own conference?

That could become the coach’s toughest call of the season.