The Desert Highlands Wolfpack came out on top in a 12-0 defensive struggle Saturday against the Gila River Cardinals to claim the Phoenix AYF All-American title and secure a trip to nationals in Florida.
Desert Highlands scored both touchdowns in the first quarter before the defenses buckled down for the rest of the game.
Wolfpack defensive captain Nicholas Acevedo recovered a Cardinal fumble to set up the team’s second score at the end of the first quarter.
Following the recovery, quarterback Ivan Yakev found receiver Branson Tibbs for a 20-yard gain.
Yakev and Tibbs had great chemistry all game. Tibbs caught three passes for 62 yards.
After an 11-yard run by Daniel Stanek, Yakev ran 33 yards for a touchdown to give the Pack a 12-0 lead.
The Cardinals drove the ball down to the Wolfpack 21 later in the half before turning the ball over on downs. Quarterback Ryan Jackson hit Steven Thinell for a 28-yard gain on the drive.
The Wolfpack then drove the ball into Cardinal territory before the Gila defense put up a stop as time expired in the half. Thinell sacked the Wolfpack quarterback on third down to stifle the drive.
Desert Highlands had another scoring chance in the fourth quarter following an interception by Acevedo. The team had the ball on the Cardinal 16, but Andy Balldanato intercepted the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
A few plays later, Wolfpack defender Elijah McAfee picked off a pass to return the ball to Desert Highlands in Cardinal territory. The Wolfpack could not score again, however, thanks to strong play by the Cardinal defense. Jordan Freiesson led the unit with a quarterback sack.
Desert Highlands scored its first touchdown on the game’s opening drive on a 1-yard touchdown run by Yakev. Stanek drove the ball down the field on the drive, collecting 28 yards rushing. Yakev found Tibbs twice on the drive for gains of 27 and 15 yards.