The Cactus Cobras

The Cactus Cobras are flying high, heading to a Peoria showdown.

The No. 2 ranked Cactus Cobras advanced to the 4A conference quarterfinals courtesy of a 43-6 drubbing over the No. 15 Tempe Buffaloes on Friday, Nov. 9. Senior quarterback Conner Cordts paved the way with six total touchdowns.

The defense flirted with a shutout, but the Buffaloes found the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Defensive coordinator Brian Belles and his defense yielded just six points in their last six quarters, dating back to last week’s win over Peoria.

“I credit that to Brian and how well he prepares and how ready he gets the kids,” head coach Joseph Ortiz said. “We have great defensive players in [Nate] Doodles Quinones, Nicc Quinones, Jacob Flaherty, Travis Combs, one of the best defensive ends in the state in Riley Davies.

“We just have great kids.”

The Cobras defense recorded two interceptions versus the Buffaloes, the third time they’ve done so in their last four games.

Coupled with its staunch defensive unit, Cactus has another weapon on the other side of the ball in Cordts.

An encore to his stellar junior campaign last year – in which he threw for north of 1,200 yards with 16 passing touchdowns – his transformation as a true dual-threat quarterback has upped the ante of the Cobras’ offense this year.

On top of entering the postseason just shy of 3,000 career passing yards, Cordts rushed for 599 yards in the regular season on 133 carries with 12 rushing touchdowns. In the previous season, he only ran the ball 48 times for 62 yards.

Ortiz and the Cactus coaching staff were floored by the work Cordts put in in the weight room earlier in the off-season. He was notably faster, he tacked on a healthy 20 pounds, he grew a few inches.

“We were like, ‘We can use this guy in more aspects than passing and just being a quarterback. We could use him as a runner.’ Once we saw him in the offseason, we knew he was going to be the catalyst of our offense and he’s taken us pretty far so far.’

He fit the mold of the quarterback every coach dreams of having, one who can patiently work from the pocket and also one who can win games with his legs.

So, Ortiz tinkered with his offense a bit to utilize Cordts as more of a dynamic runner in his senior year.

“If we have a runner, we’re going to use him. For him to get that athletic and grow in one year, we have to use him. We would be dumb not to.”

In Ortiz’s second season at Cactus, the Cobras are 9-2. They advanced as far as the quarter-finals last year, but seem primed to do more damage this fall.

All that stands in their way from reaching the semifinals is district rival and the No. 7 seed Peoria High.

The Cobras squeaked out a thrilling 20-14 win over Peoria on Nov. 1, in which Cordts and the offense scored 20 unanswered points stun Peoria late. After allowing 14 first-half points, Belles’ defensive pitched a second-half shutout.

Ortiz knows his squad can’t afford another two-score halftime deficit if it hopes for a crack at the semifinals. What the Cobras must do instead, he said, is to build an early lead to where the Chiefs are playing catch-up for the majority of the night.

“They changed their whole defense for us and it caught us off guard,” he said, regarding that Nov. 1 game. “I just think we need to make sure we’re ready as a coaching staff, putting these kids in the best situation moving forward.

“I think we’re going to make our adjustments and hopefully it’s a good night for the Cobras.

Cactus has won eight of the last 11 contests versus Peoria, according to Maxpreps.com.

The two will square off at Cactus High School Friday,  Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the semi-finals. For the loser, the season ends.