Cactus Shadows Senior

Cactus Shadows senior wide receiver JP Thuma throws a wicked stiff arm on Apollo defender during their Aug. 25 scrimmage. Thuma is part of a large senior class that looks to push Cactus Shadows over the top this season. 

Cactus Shadows will enter the 2021 season with a chip on its shoulder, and a chance to avenge last season’s first round playoff exit on the road in week two.

After an abbreviated season due to COVID-19, Cactus Shadows entered the 5A state playoffs as the four seed, and came up short against Campo Verde, who controlled the game for four quarters. Looking ahead to 2021, the Falcons see a chance to test their mettle in the Sept. 9 rematch with Campo Verde. 

“It’s definitely satisfying to get to see that rematch early in the season. They have a quality program, and it will serve as a sort of measuring stick for our team going into this season,” said Mike Hudnutt, Cactus Shadows head coach.

Cactus Shadows is considered the favorite to knock off Sunnyslope and win the Northeast Valley, and senior wide receiver Michael Macdonald said he believes the incoming underclassmen could be the key.

“I know the upperclassman and I have very high expectations,” Macdonald said. “So, we are keeping the underclassmen focused and on task. We are absolutely working our tails off and we think we can be great this year.”

The Falcons’ schedule features four playoff teams from 2020, including a homecoming matchup versus South Mountain.

“I think playing good teams sets a standard for expectations. We want to continue to push and go beyond just getting to the playoffs,” Hudnutt said.

In other notable opponents, the Falcons will play 6A Mesa in their home opener, and 4A Coconino as the third of their four nonsection games.

“We feel like it’s just like any other week,” said Jacob Steward, senior linebacker. “We’ve been watching a lot of film, and we feel like it’s a great opportunity to see, where we’re going to go this season, the chance to prove ourselves in week one.”

Team chemistry can be a huge factor at the high school level, and according to Steward, it’s not lacking with the Falcons. 

“We feel that this is going to be one of our best seasons, because this team is very close this year,” Steward said, “We’ve become very close over camp, and the relationships we’ve built are really good.”

The 2021 season will see the 5A state tournament return to its 16-team format, after an eight-team tournament in 2020.

“Having a full season just feels so much better than last year,” Macdonald said, “We are hopeful to get all ten games in this season.”

Cactus Shadows plays its first game at home on Friday, Sept. 3, as part of its 10-game schedule for 2021.

“I think it’s exciting to get back to some normalcy—especially for the mental health of these young men and coaches,” Hudnutt said. “You’ve got people just itching to get back out there.”