The Republic breaks down the matchups, which are both set for Friday at 7 p.m., at the higher-seed school:
Among the top four levels of Arizona high school football, 5A is the only one that’s all chalk entering the semifinals. While upsets are fun, that sets the stage for a compelling third round.
No. 4 Cactus at No. 1 Notre Dame Prep
Cactus’ season has been a fascinating one. In mid-September, it looked like a disappointing season was on the card for the Cobras, who reached the Open last year but lost coach Joseph Ortiz to Perry in the off-season. In their first two games, they were outscored by a combined 64 points.
Then, two things happened. One, those two opponents — Desert Mountain and ALA-Queen Creek — emerged as perhaps the two best teams in 5A. Two, Cactus began to find solutions at quarterback, after moving its previous quarterback Will Galvan to a swiss-army knife role in the offseason. In each of the past six games — all wins — senior Rudy Gonzales has passed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown.
Beating Notre Dame Prep, though, might be a bridge too far. The Saints’ only loss was back in September against Chandler. And while Cactus has found solutions at quarterback, Notre Dame Prep has a star there in the form of Noah Trigueros. The junior has thrown for 2,528 yards, 27 touchdowns and just five interceptions on the season, helping guide an offense that’s averaging 53.5 points in its two playoff games.
Prediction: Notre Dame Prep 42, Cactus 17
No. 3 Higley at No. 2 Desert Mountain
If nothing else, this game should be wildly entertaining. On one side, there’s Higley, led by quarterback Jamar Malone II, who has 3,544 passing yards and 41 touchdowns this year, along with 791 rushing yards. The pass game is Higley’s calling card and they aren’t afraid to let you know it. In last week’s 45-42 win over Desert Edge, Malone accounted for 395 of Higley’s 425 yards — including a game-winning touchdown drive that began with just 1:53 on the clock. This is how the Knights beat you.
On the other side, there’s a Desert Mountain team that can win any which way. In a remarkable statistic, both halves of the Wolves’ quarterback rotation — Drew Tapley and Brady McDonough — have passed for exactly 1,535 yards this year. But they can also win low-scoring games, powered by a defense that’s allowing just 13.7 points per game. That’s how they’ve gotten to this point, having allowed just 14 total points in their first two playoff games. Against Higley, that defense will likely be the deciding factor. The Wolves can get beaten by Malone, they just can’t get destroyed by him.
Prediction: Desert Mountain 31, Higley 28
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Breaking down the 5A Arizona high school football semifinals