Higley rolls past Cactus for 1st 5A football championship

After Jamar Malone II threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, after Will Galvan side-stepped a defender on his way to the end zone, it didn’t look good for Gilbert Higley’s football team Friday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

Suddenly, Higley flipped a switch, sparked a relentless defense and the brilliance of Malone and reeled off the next 35 points to cruise to the school’s first 5A state football championship with a 41-21 victory over Glendale Cactus.

“They don’t score, they don’t win,” said coach Eddy Zubey, who received his first-ever championship ice water bath from his players afterwards. “We were able to stop the run and finally dialed into what they were doing.”

Cactus (10-4) was on a fast track to its fourth state title, after Nicco Boncore jumped a route and returned Malone’s pass 60 yards for a score late in the first quarter to give the Cobras a 14-6 lead.

Just as it seemed to have Higley’s high-powered offense solved, all-everything senior Will Galvan bounced around a couple of defenders on his way to a 17-yard touchdown run that gave Cactus a 21-6 lead with about eight minutes left in the half.

It was all Higley the rest of the way.

Dec 9, 2022; Tempe, AZ, USA; The Higley Knights celebrate their victory over the Cactus Cobras during the AIA 5A state championship game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Mandatory Credit: Alex Gould/The Republic

Key to the sudden surge was defense, especially two plays turned in by sophomore outside linebacker Kamarion Peete. Peete sacked Rudy Gonzales for a 14-yard loss deep in Cactus’ territory. A short punt gave Higley field position at Cactus’ 38. From there, Malone made a couple of quick plays to get Higley to the 10, before Dax Hall scored on a quick burst up the middle.

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