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Desert Edge football drives to state title game in final minutes

Goodyear squad pushes past Horizon in 5A semifinal

Posted 11/25/23

Entering Friday night’s 5A conference semifinal between the Desert Edge and the Horizon, the expectation by most prognosticators was that the battle between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds would be a …

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Desert Edge football drives to state title game in final minutes

Goodyear squad pushes past Horizon in 5A semifinal


Entering Friday night’s 5A conference semifinal between the Desert Edge and the Horizon, the expectation by most prognosticators was that the battle between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds would be a high-scoring affair.

Through the first three quarters, defense was the calling card of the game, as Desert Edge led 10-3. Then Horizon threw down the gauntlet with two fourth-quarter touchdowns - although a missed extra point and deflected two-point pass limited the Huskies' lead to 15-10.

Desert Edge embarked on a decisive 80-yard touchdown drive in 3:22. The threat of senior Marki McKinnon’s inside rushing ability allowed the Scorpions offense to run on the perimeter with senior wide receivers Kezion Dia-Johnson and Jaqua Anderson, who combined for 50 of the 80 yards.

Junior quarterback Hezekiah "Buddha" Millender dove into the end zone from two yards out with 29 seconds left, then ran in the two-point conversion. Senior defensive end Deshawn Warner finished the semifinal with a sack of Jase Ashley and the Scorpions won the physical matchup 18-15 

“I’m not ready to be done yet, we’ve gotten so close the last three years, coaches and players we all were going to give what we got,” Warner said.

Desert Edge (11-2) advances to the 5A conference championship game as the #2 seed to face off against #1 seeded Gilbert Higley (11-2) at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 at Mountain America Stadium in Tempe. 

It's the program's fourth state title appearance and the first since 2019. Desert Edge won the 2015 crown in Division III (basically today's 4A).

In a close game, any one play can make the difference between winning and losing whether that be a dropped pass, a broken tackle, or a long run. 

The biggest play of Friday's game, however, did not fit those descriptions nor did it result in a score.

Trailing 15-10 with two minutes left following a 27-yard touchdown run by Husky running back Anthony Segura, Millender dropped back for a pass and completed it to senior Johnny Arvallo for a Scorpions first down as the clock stopped. 

In the backfield right in front of Millender, a defensive lineman of Horizon and an offensive lineman of Desert Edge got into a shoving match and before the referee could throw a flag, running back Markhi McKinnon shoved his Scorpion teammate away and got into his face to talk to him before a penalty that would’ve killed Desert Edge’s comeback hopes could happen.

“That’s culture, these boys are disciplined” said Desert Edge co-coach Mark Carter.

Moments like that by McKinnon were crucial to the Scorpions success on the night.

On third down and one from the Husky two-yard line with thirty-two seconds remaining, Millender rushed into the end zone for two of the most rewarding yards of his 68 total.

Following the score, Millender ran to the sideline and looked at Mark Carter and said “let me win this game.”  Once again, Millender would have another two-yard run, and the two-point conversion.

“My guys got my back and I got theirs, coach Mark called my name and I made a play and I went to the sideline and he called it again,” said Millender.

As both teams traded timeouts to see how the other team would line up, the ball was snapped and immediately Warner and senior Shaun Aletor met in the backfield and the game was over.

Desert Edge caps a 4-0 November as players got healthy and transfers became more comfortable.

“We’ve been healthy since the Verrado game and now we’re playing our best ball at the right time, we’re a different team than where we were” said Mark Carter. 

After a scoreless first quarter, the lone spark by either side came on their final drives of the half as both teams scored their only points on field goals by Husky kicker Kanyon Floyd and Desert Edge kicker Kole Rogers in a 3-3 slugfest at halftime.

Right away to start the game, Warner would wreak havoc right away with a tackle for loss and a sack on the opening drive to force a Horizon punt.

And throughout the night Warner’s name continued to ring out from the PA system as he finished unofficially with six tackles, four of which were for loss and two sacks.

After being contained by the Husky defensive line to start the game, McKinnon found a gap and broke a tackle as the Idaho commit outran the Horizon defense for a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Scorpions a 10-3 third quarter lead.

For co-head coaches Mark and Marcus Carter, this moment has been a long time coming. 

Through the first three seasons under the Carter brothers, the Scorpions had been snake bitten by heartbreaking postseason results.

The Scorpions lost as the eighth seed in the 2020 Open Division playoffs to a Chandler juggernaut, and in the final moments of a 2021 semifinal at Tucson Salpointe Catholic. Just last season Desert Edge suffered a narrow quarterfinal loss in Gilbert to the team they’ll face for the championship.

In 2004, the Carters started their coaching journey at Cactus High School under legendary head coach Larry Fetkenheir before moving out of the state to Georgia and working their way back to South Mountain High School.

The journey has been far from straight, but it has been worthwhile. With a victory in the championship game, Mark and Marcus would become only the second and third black head coaches in the history of Arizona to win a state championship, but would be first to win at the big school level.

Through all of the questions about whether or not the Carters and this experienced group of players could win the big game, Desert Edge has lived by the motto of  “standing on business” and will have a chance to win the second championship in school history.