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Arizona high school football playoff preview: Foundation still strong for Desert Edge

Nov 15, 2012
Photo by Steve Paynter

Desert Edge laid the foundation years ago, and it's paying dividends in this year's playoff run.

Rich Wellbrock's first season at Desert Edge (Goodyear), a bit of a whirlwind, is still paying dividends.

The success the Scorpions had in 2010 — making the state semifinals despite being the fourth coach in four seasons and without the benefit of spring ball — set a foundation that showed the younger players what could be accomplished.

And two seasons later, here is Desert Edge back in the semifinals after beating perennial champion Saguaro 38-35. The top-seeded Scorpions (12-0) take on No. 5 Williams Field (11-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Sandra Day O'Connor.

"That first year was crazy, getting a staff together in about 72 hours, no spring ball and we really didn't have time to ask a lot of questions," Wellbrock said. "That senior class was all in with their hands, feet and everything you could think of.

"It built a level a trust and got everyone's attention."

Now the whole state is noticing after the top-seeded Scorpions overcame a 21-3 deficit against Saguaro, which had won the state title in five of the previous six seasons.

Photo by Kevin French

Sawyer Lung, Desert Edge

Desert Edge was the least talked-about No. 1 seed in the state, and not many gave the Scorpions much of a chance against Saguaro, but talk has little to do with action on the field.

The Scorpions never gave in to the deficit or the doubt that could have crept in with a less cohesive team when they were trailing. Instead Desert Edge played a nearly perfect second half and proved to the players that they can beat anyone.

"It opened our eyes," senior linebacker Jonathan Snyder, who is one of a handful of Scorpions who played on the 2010 team as sophomores. "We saw the potential that we had in front of us, and we have worked very hard ever since to get to this point.

"We have really come together this year. Everybody knows their role, what they need to do, and we have done it.''

It's a similar approach the seniors took just a few years ago when everything before that, including a 9-22 record under the three previous coaches, was a little less cohesive.

That's why Wellbrock and his staff have gone out of their way to foster a family atmosphere, which desperately needed to be repaired after the coaching turnover.

It was made easier by the instant success in the first year and left an impression on this senior class.

"Some of those same things drive this senior class that was there in the first one," said Wellbrock, who coached at Tolleson previously where his overall record belied how hard the team competed. "We snuck up on people that first year, and a little bit this year, too, but no one here ever doubted what level we could play at."

Photo by Steve Paynter

Ronald Dowdell, Desert Edge

The Scorpions have won games with their offense (8 games of at least 45 points) and defense (26-0 over Liberty) or both this season.

There are star players — Sawyer Lung (2,772 passing yards, 41 total TDs), Kyle Woolard (1,477 rushing yards, 13 TDs), Elijah Marks (1,222 receiving yards, 17 TDs), Ronald Dowdell (6 INT, 17 passes defended), R.J. Tui (6.5 sacks) and Josh Famolaro (95 tackles) — and leaders driving this team.

But without the first season, when the foundation was set, none of it might have been possible.

"The facilities are okay and some people still don't know where we are, but what we have is great support from everyone involved," Wellbrock said. "When we got here we encountered issues that all new staffs do, but what found was something special."

Here is a look at this weekend's games. Be sure to check out the 2012 Arizona Football Brackets and the Arizona Football Playoff Score Projections.


Division I

No. 1 Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) vs. No. 4 Brophy College Prep (Phoenix) at McClintock, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Desert Ridge (Mesa) vs. No. 3 Hamilton (Chandler) at Highland, 7 p.m.

Division II

No.1 Salpointe Catholic (Tucson) vs. No. 4 Centennial (Peoria) at Amphitheater, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Marcos de Niza (Tempe) vs. No. 3 Ironwood Ridge (Tucson) at Campo Verde, 7 p.m.


Division III

No. 1 Desert Edge (Goodyear) vs. No. 5 Williams Field (Gilbert) at Sandra Day O'Connor, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Queen Creek vs. No. 14 Nogales at Campo Verde, 7 p.m.

Division IV

No. 1 Blue Ridge (Lakeside) vs. No. 4 Snowflake (Snowflake) at Washington, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Show Low vs. No. 3 Seton Catholic (Chandler) at Washington, 3 p.m.

Division V

No. 1 Northwest Christian (Phoenix) vs. No. 5 Yuma Catholic (Yuma) at Arcadia, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Morenci vs. No. 3 Tempe Prep (Tempe) at Arcadia, 3 p.m.

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at or 480-272-2449.