The last two years Highland had to scramble in the second half to pull off close wins over Mesa High. Thursday night was a slightly different story.
Using a nice mix of run and pass in a late second-quarter drive for its only score of the night, Highland grabbed a7-3 lead at intermission and held tight for a 7-3 triumph in a Division I contest at Jackrabbit Stadium.
Last year Highland had to score 10 points in the final six minutes to pull out a 24-21 win. Highland quarterback Blake Young tossed a tying TD pass to wide out Jake Brown and in the final 10 seconds kicker Noah Miller knocked home a short field goal to snap a 21-21 tie in the 2012 triumph. Highland won the 2011 meeting with Mesa, 31-21.
On Thursday night Young did his part to help secure the win, completing three of four passes on an 11-play, 63-yard TD march covering five minutes late in the second period. Young completed passes to two tall targets — Dusty Cook and Jake Brown on the drive. The last one on the drive was an 11-yarder to Cook that bought a first down at Mesa's 14. Two plays later leading rusher Ryan McCord tallied from 1-yard out. Miller's extra point made it 7-3 with 1:21 left in the half. Uoung completed 10-of-19 passes for 126 yards and no interceptions. Cook caught three passes for 43 yards and Brown hauled in four for 50 yards.
Highland (1-1)controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part in rebounding from a 21-14 loss last week to Queen Creek. Highland outgained Mesa, 251-160, but did have to repel two Mesa scoring threats in the second half — one each in the third and fourth quarters.
Both times Highland interceptions turned Mesa (1-1) away. The first took place midway through the third quarter when Mesa quarterback Chris Shelton lofted a jump-ball to tal wide out Taro Leib. A trio of Highland defenders converged and safety Casey Cole came away with the pick in the end zone.
Mesa's final shot at victory ended with 1:16 to play. Sheldon lofted a pass inside the Highland 20, but corner back Cole McEuen was in position to nab the underthrown toss. Highland ran out the final 76 seconds.
“Believe it or not we did a lot of good things tonight, but then we'd shoot ourselves in the foot with a turnover or dropped pass,” Highland coach Pete Wahlheim said. “Our defense played hard. They carried us.”
Mesa scored its three points on the first play of the second period with kicker Noe Pereles drilling a 43-yard field goal with plenty to spare. The kick had the distance to approach 60 yards. That score came after Highland's first turnover — a muffed punt at the Highland 33 that was recovered by Mesa's Jacob Sosa.
“The two interceptions were big, but those things happen,” Mesa coach Kelley Moore said. “The biggest thing was I don't think we quite believed we could do it (win). Highland needed this game. They were desperate and played that way.”
Mesa had to turn over its rushing attack to senior Javier Martinez after last week's standout Turrell Pietz-Noble was injured late in the first period. Pietz-Noble rushed for 167 yards last week in Mesa's win over Dobson. Martinez picked up 35 yards rushing and 31 yards receiving in his first extensive duty of the season.