By Chris Gabel, East Valley Tribune
Taren Morrison went up against two of the best recruits in the country Friday night and was the best player on the field.
Playing opposite Desert Mountain’s Kyle Allen and Mark Andrews, the Desert Ridge running back amassed 315 rushing yards and added a 99-yard kickoff return to lead the No. 2 Jaguars to a 55-41 victory at home.
Seniors Allen (Texas A&M) and Andrews (Oklahoma) got to pick where they’ll continue their football careers — and showed why in playing for the Wolves’ playoff hopes — but it was the junior Morrison who stole the show and cemented in his coach’s mind that he too soon will have a big decision to make.
“You got (Andrews) going wherever he wants and the quarterback (Allen) going wherever he wants. Likewise, Taren is going to be able to go wherever he wants,” Jaguars coach Jeremy Hathcock. “That kid is super electric.”
Morrison had three rushes of more than 40 yards, another two of more than 20 and finished with a 12.1-yards-per-carry average on 26 carries. He gashed the porous Desert Mountain defense all night, but his biggest touches came in a short period in the middle of the game.
After Allen hit Andrews late in the second quarter for one of their three touchdown connections to give the Wolves what appeared to be a lead heading into halftime, Morrison, in as a sub on the kick return unit, returned the kickoff 99 yards for a tying score.
His next carry went for 46 yards to set up a go-ahead touchdown and the speedster set the tone for the second half with a 53-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-5 early in the third quarter.
“Those plays brought us a lot of momentum and gave us a lot of energy to win this game,” said Morrison, who added he is going to lobby to be part more kick returns. “I’m trying to break 2,000 (yards) by the end of the season, so getting this many tonight helps a lot.”
Morrison sits at 1,685 yards on the season with one more regular-season game left and what could be a deep playoff run for the Jaguars (8-1).
Desert Mountain, meanwhile, didn’t bolster its playoff chances and dropped below .500. The Wolves (4-5) began the week 12th in the Division I power rankings and coach Tony Tabor expects a win next week versus Mesa will keep his team in the playoff-bound top 16.
“We need to win next week to finish 5-5 but I believe 5-5 will get us in,” Tabor said.
It is difficult to believe the Wolves are hovering around breakeven with offensive weapons of Allen and Andrews — and the pair did nothing to dispel that notion Friday.
Allen was 20-of-38 for 296 yards and Andrews caught 14 passes for 208 yards. Deion Warren added 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
But the Wolves were shut out in the third quarter, which allowed Desert Ridge to pull away after an even first half.
“We’ve been a second-half team all year. … In the second half we really balled out,” said Hathcock, whose team started the week fifth in the power rankings that determine postseason seeding.
Morrison ran for 207 yards and both his touchdowns after halftime, as the Jaguars racked up 446 yards on the ground and 512 yards overall.
“Being tied at halftime, we had to step it up,” Morrison said. “We had to step it up offensively; we had to step it up defensively. And that’s what we did.”
DESERT RIDGE 55, DESERT MOUNTAIN 41
Desert Mtn. 7 21 0 13 — 41
Desert Ridge 7 21 13 14 — 55
DM — Andrews 22 pass from Allen (Taylor kick), 9:12
DR — Hathcock 1 run (Witlow kick), 2:26
DM — Warren 19 run (Taylor kick), 8:55
DR — Irby 19 run (Witlow kick), 5:47
DM — Andrews 6 pass from Allen (Taylor kick), 2:42
DR — Tn. Morrison 99 kick return (Witlow kick), 2:26
DR — Irby 10 pass from Tk. Morrison (Witlow kick), 1:25
DM — Warren 1 run (Taylor kick), 0:15
DR — Tn. Morrison 53 run (Witlow kick), 9:30
DR — Tn. Morrison 4 run (kick failed), 1:06
DR — Rodriguez 9 run (Witlow kick), 8:42
DM — Andrews 5 pass from Allen (Taylor kick), 4:19
DR — Itaaehau 1 run (Witlow kick), 1:09
DM — Warren 2 run, 0:00
First downs: 25, 27
Rushing: 29-131, 49-446
Passing (comp.-att.-yards-TD-INT): 21-39-1-312, 3-6-0-66
Fumbles-Lost: 0-0, 0-0
Penalties-Yards: 6-56, 8-85
RUSHING — Desert Mountain: Warren 17-134, McKay 1-7, Andrews 1-5, Biancucci 1-(-1), Allen 9-(-14). Desert Ridge: Tn. Morrison 26-315, Irby 7-92, Hathcock, 7-24, Rodriguez 2-17, Spaid 3-6, Itaaehau 1-1, Tk. Morrison 3-(-9).
PASSING — Desert Mountain: Allen 20-38-1-296, Higgins 1-1-0-16. Desert Ridge: Tk. Morrison 3-6-0-66.
RECEIVING — Desert Mountain: Andrews 14-208, Warren 2-53, Higgins 2-20, Olivarez 1-9, Martinez 1-6. Desert Ridge: Acosta 1-39, Winner 1-17, Irby 1-10.