The 5A Division I state semifinal between Desert Vista and Desert Ridge could be decided by whichever team has the better running game.
For Desert Vista, that's nothing new. The Thunder have made their hay (and more) by running their "fly sweep" for years, and it's been a big part of this year's revival.
But Desert Ridge? Running the ball?
Hard to believe from a team that threw for a state-record 595 yards two years ago against Red Mountain. Or the team that ran five times against Marcos de Niza earlier this year.
The Jaguars were blown out by the Padres that night, and the transformation began even before starting quarterback Parker Rasmussen suffered a knee injury a few weeks later.
Rasmussen will return to play part-time at quarterback against Desert Vista, but Jordan Becerra has run wild as the fill-in quarterback, along with tailback Joey Counts. Desert Ridge put up nearly 400 rushing yards per game in Rasmussen's absence.
"It's working so well with Becerra, why stop now?" Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said.
Hathcock has never been part of a team (playing or coaching) with a junior captain until Becerra this year. So even though Rasmussen practiced this week and will throw in obvious passing situations or perhaps the 2-minute drill, the offense won't change with his return, a prospect that had the Jaguars worried about how Rasmussen and Becerra would react.
Apparently it's all been worry for nothing.
"It was a nightmare problem to have, but the last thing I'm going to do is put a kid's career in jeopardy," Hatchcock said. "If it costs me a game, I don't care. I'm not going to do that. (Rasmussen) understands that, he's more of a team guy than I ever anticipated. He gets it."
Desert Vista has gotten it lately. Healthier after a rough start to the season, the Jaguars have justifiable fears about dealing with D.V.'s "fly sweep" and Mike Ingrassia (1,600 yards of offense, 13 TD), who's been the catalyst on each side of the ball for the Thunder. Ingrassia, Sean Coffinger and Mike Arredondo have provided steady leadership that was absent a year ago, and Hunter Rodriguez's progression as a quarterback gave the Thunder enough offensive balance to reach this point.
"They gave Ingrassia the ball and didn't screw it up," Hathcock said of Desert Vista. "Sometimes we outthink ourselves as coaches, and they didn't."
Afterthoughts in the brutal Fiesta Region to begin the season, Desert Vista finished second behind Hamilton in the region once they got healthy and stayed afloat after losing to rival Mountain Pointe in mid-September.
"We envisioned (a semifinal berth) but it was blurry and unclear," Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. "We thought we could have a 7-3 or 8-2-type season. We knew the talent was there, but we had to fight through some of the negativity and once we did the confidence just snowballed from there."
Both teams' running games have snowballed, and it's why this could be the most intriguing of the four Class 5A semifinals.
Nobody counted on Desert Vista being here. Nobody figured gunslinging Desert Ridge would get here running twice as often as throwing.