The Casteel Colts visited the Desert Vista Thunder in the first round of the 2021 AIA State Football Playoffs. Without the top teams in each conference due to the Open Division, the 6A playoffs become more competitive.
Bobby Newcombe and his Casteel Colts already beat one team in Ahwatukee, as they pummeled Mountain Pointe 35-6 earlier this season. Now, on the other sideline was, Ty Wisdom who looked to build on his team’s late-season momentum by getting his first playoff win as Desert Vista’s head coach.
The advantage would end up going to Casteel in the end, 38-29. However, after pitching a first-half shutout with a score of 10-0, Newcombe knew that Desert Vista would give them a run for their money in the second half.
“The biggest thing for us is stopping the run, they are a heavy-running football team, so we knew some of their tendencies there. They made some adjustments at halftime, played a little different game and they took advantage of a couple openings there,” Newcombe said.
In the first half, the Thunder were moving the ball but were killed by penalties. Whether it be holding or false starts, shooting themselves in the foot was the main reason they did not put up any points.
Each defense was playing level to one another in the first half, the only difference being Casteel’s offense capitalized on mistakes. After the opening drive for Desert Vista ended in a missed field goal, the Colts drove down and made their kick to start the scoring.
The following Desert Vista drive started with a tipped pass from quarterback Braxton Thomas, which was intercepted by Jeremiah Newcombe, who had his fingerprints all over this game. It did not take long for Casteel to take advantage of the short field position as quarterback Landon Jury hit tight end Bear Tenney in the end zone for the touchdown.
That was the story of the night. The Thunder would make a mistake and Casteel continued to put up points because of it.
After the first drive in the second half, the game looked to be over. Running back Aj Murphy gashed the Thunder on the ground. And when the defense took him out, Jury kept the ball and did damage himself. The drive ended with Newcombe coming in as the wildcat quarterback and running the ball in for the score from 9 yards out.
Down 17-0, Desert Vista kept using the run game that had been effective, it just needed to protect itself from mistakes. Thomas made his first big play of the game by maneuvering in the pocket and finding wide receiver Rylon Dillard for a 56-yard pass that would be Desert Vista’s first points of the game.
Immediately following, Casteel fumbled on the ensuing kick return, giving Wisdom and his squad much-needed field position. After only a few running plays from Devon Grubbs, Thomas kept it and pushed in for the 5-yard score. Thomas would finish the game with 11 rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown run.
Even without the outcome they wanted, Wisdom was proud that his team bounced back.
“I’m super proud of our guys and how we responded,” Wisdom said. “It’s a 17-14 game, we got the momentum, but we turned the ball over again and the game broke open from there.”
That was the way things went Friday night for Desert Vista. After Thomas fumbled on a handoff exchange, the Thunder were still down three with a chance for their defense to hold one more time. A couple of Casteel players had gone down, including Jury, and it did not matter. Newcombe came in for the rest of the series and punched it in himself again for his second score of the night.
Junior quarterback Jackson Akins came in during the fourth quarter for Desert Vista, putting up a rushing touchdown as well as one through the air connecting with Cade Colemere from 30 yards out. It would not be enough as Newcombe iced the game with a 17-yard touchdown reception from the arm of Jury.
Newcombe was a jack of all trades, finishing with 57 total yards and three touchdowns – two rushing, and the game-ending reception for the score.
The stats were plentiful for the whole Casteel offense. Before getting injured Murphy finished with 19 carries for 152 yards. Jury came back into the game after his injury and finished the game going 12 of 22 for 97 yards and two touchdown passes, adding 40 yards on the ground. Tenney would be carted off in the second half after catching two passes for 20 yards and the lone score in the first half.
Both teams should look back on this season as a success. Casteel is still fighting to win the 6A championship, facing Highland next week.
As for the Thunder, they experienced bumps in the road with new leadership in Wisdom but were still able to find themselves as a unit and build on a couple of wins that helped them get into the playoffs.
Grubbs, the senior running back, had a solid game, finishing with 10 rushes for 90 yards. After the loss, he did not really care about what just transpired. He was thankful to get a chance to play ball with his brothers again in the playoffs after missing a chunk of the season to injury.
“It was great getting to play with my teammates again, I knew they had a big load on my shoulders and sometimes things play out how we want and other times it doesn’t you know, that’s just life,” Grubbs said.
The overall experience for Grubbs during his four years at Desert Vista was great. He became a leader, a future collegiate athlete and much more. However, when asked about his favorite memory of this group of guys, his answer is very telling as to what kind of bonds these players make over the course of a season.
“At camp up in Deer Valley just being able to have a good time playing spike ball, even playing basketball together,” Grubbs said.
Wisdom was not a fan of the narrative that he came in and fixed a winless program in 2021. But the undeniable truth was that he created a team that fought for each other and did every single thing they could until the final buzzer sounded from the scoreboard.
“This was a fun group to coach because they kept getting better,” Wisdom said. “A bitter ending though, you see these kids give it their all, and football is a game that is just over, it’s hard. You feel for the kids.”
Without a doubt a successful season for Wisdom in his first year leading the Desert Vista football program. He would have loved to keep this grind of a season going a little longer, especially for the seniors. Yet, he kept using the keyword, proud, and he meant it.
“There were times when they could fold,” Wisdom said. “We had two second-half comeback victories when a lot of teams would quit, you know, start pointing fingers. They didn’t, they didn’t tonight, they continued to fight until the end, and that’s all you can ask. Casteel made a few more plays than we did tonight. But we’ll get there.”