COTTONWOOD- The AIA Division III State Playoffs are upon us and come 7 p.m. the No. 10 Mingus Marauders will take the field at Verrado High School to face-off with the No. 7 Vipers for their first round match up. The Marauders come off a Section VIII Championship victory over the Prescott Badgers last Friday, 27-7. The Vipers suffered their first loss of the season to No. 3 seed Desert Edge.
The (8-1) Vipers were undefeated heading into last Friday night and were held below 30 points for the second-time this season. The Marauders have only allowed an opponent to score 30 points once this year. That came in their only loss of the season against Peoria. The red & grey are coming off a string of seven straight victories since that loss and have only allowed 14 points in the last four weeks.
This success can be attributed to the aggressive play of the Marauders defense led by sophomore Cole Phelps who leads the team in tackles with 110. Fellow sophomore Tyler Kelly leads the team in sacks with 10.5, only .5 ahead of his older brother Pete. The stingy Marauders defense has racked up three shutouts this year, but will have their hands full with a very balanced Vipers offense in which Head Coach Bob Young believes they pose problems.
"Verrado poses problems with their speed, they have multiple weapons," Young said. "They are a very balanced offensively with their run & pass. We just need to align correctly & tackle."
Verrado has had a balanced offense this year racking up 1,904 yards through the air, and 1,258 yards on the ground, according to maxpreps.com. Senior Lathon Lax leads the aerial attack for the Vipers with 1,813 yards passing on the year, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in Verrado's 43-0 win over Gila Ridge the second week of the season. Sophomore Ja'Tai Jenkins has led the ground attack for the Vipers racking up 624 yards on 78 carries this year, with nine touchdowns. Jarryd Samsing has seen the second most carries for the Vipers with 45, racking up 193 yards in nine games this season.
Although Jenkins and Samsing have been involved in the passing game as well, it has been senior Xavier James who has caught the eye of Lax the most this season. James has caught 22 passes for 624 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Sophomore Elijah Johnson added to that total with 15 catches for 330 yards receiving and two touchdowns. With such a successful passing and running game one would have to look at the size of the Vipers offensive line. The Vipers boast big lineman across the board as two are touching 300 lbs. Sophomore Tackle Sean Anderson stands at 6-foot 7-inches, 302 lbs. and junior Adrian Pina stands at 6-foot 3-inches, 300 lbs. Even with the size across the board, Young says the Marauders offense won't change from how it has been run all season.
"Size doesn't bother us," Young said. "Our offense is based on speed and deception, so we won't change what we do. We have played bigger teams all year."
The Marauders have played bigger teams all year, and have run all over bigger teams all year.
13 different Marauders have carried the ball this year, quarterback Jordan Upham has led the way for Mingus with 776 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. With the use of a veer-style offense, the Marauders have seen the best of both worlds this season when it comes to running the ball. Fullback Alec Phyfer has been a key piece of the Marauders offense, providing the power running game with life in the late moments of the game.
Against Prescott, the Marauders relied heavily on Phyfer on the last drive of the game as he broke off a multitude of runs that led the Marauders to the two-yard line before they took a knee and ran out the clock. Phyfer finished the regular season with 620 yards on 103 carries and scored five times.
The Marauders have also utilized the speed and shiftiness of running backs Tristan Clark and Anthony Accurso, who have both had successful seasons so far. Clark, in his last year wearing the red and grey, has ran for 544 yards this season on 65 carries. Clark also leads the Marauders in receiving yards with 233, and has contributed on special teams as well, returning punts and kickoffs.
Other than Upham, Accurso has scored the most touchdowns for Mingus this year with nine to go along with his 505 yards on the ground.
At the beginning of the year, Young said he wanted to return to the playoffs after back-to-back 5-5 seasons. The Marauders have lived up to that goal this year, and have been chosen by some to possibly be a bracket buster in Division III. Young said, that they don't pay attention to that, and are just focusing on seeing how long they can play now. Taking it one week at a time.
Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. at Verrado High School to see who moves on to the next round in the AIA Division III State Tournament.
8/28 at #46 Moon Valley, 38-21, Win
9/11 at #25 Gila Ridge, 43-0, Win
9/18 at #42 Kellis, 52-15, Win
9/25 vs #52 Copper Canyon, 56-14, Win
10/2 vs #33 La Joya Community, 31-0, Win
10/9 at #21 Buckeye, 42-6, Win
10/16 at #43 Sierra Linda, 55-27, Win
10/23 vs #28 Agua Fria, 28-25, Win
10/30 vs #3 Desert Edge, 49-23, Loss
Top Performers in 2015
Pass: Lathon Lax,1813 yards, 19 TD
Rush: Ja'Tai Jenkins, 624 yards, 9 TD
Rec: Xavier James, 624 yards, 9 TD
Tackles: Donte Richardson 75 tackles, 11 TFL
Sacks: Cody Carrier, 7
Interceptions: Tino Cruz 5
Mingus 2015 Schedule and Results
8/21 vs. #26 Cactus Shadows 42-15, Win
8/28 vs. #33 (Div. IV) Lee Williams, 42-0, Win
9/11 vs. #29 Peoria, 34-21, Loss
9/18 at #45 Greenway, 20-14, Win
9/25 vs #46 Moon Valley, 51-20, Win
10/2 vs #12 Bradshaw Mountain, 20-15, Win
10/9 at #37 Coconino, 38-0, Win
10/16 at #35 McClintock, 30-0, Win
10/23 vs #27 Flagstaff, 41-7, Win
10/30 at #23 Prescott, 27-7, Win
Top Performers in 2015
Pass: Jordan Upham, 424 yards, 6 TD
Rush: Jordan Upham, 776 yards, 12 TD
Rec: Tristan Clark, 233 yards, 3 TD
Tackles: Cole Phelps, 110 tackles
Sacks: Tyler Kelly, 10.5 sacks
Interceptions: 6 tied with 1
*All stats, records, and rankings are according to Maxpreps.com as of November 5