Minus yards rushing in the first half. Eight penalties for 80 yards. It's top rusher out with a leg injury early in the second quarter. Seemed like only a 10-0 deficit for Skyline against city-rival Mesa High was fortunate given those numbers .
With that manageable score facing them after intermission, Skyline was able to force a turnover to score some points and ground out a 94-yard, game-winning drive in the final minutes to upend Mesa High, 17-10, in a Division I game at Jackrabbit Stadium.
“This win means a lot to us,” Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi said. “We've got six wins. Whether or not that's good enough or not, who knows. … Winning this one, at least puts us with a shot.”
By a shot, Paffumi means a chance at a postseason berth. Skyline has qualified for postseason just twice in its 14-year history. Both came competing in 5A-II, the equivalent today of Division II. If Skyline somehow finishes in the top 16 in the power-rankings following next week's games, it will be the school's first big-school playoff berth.
Skyline began the second half much like the first half. The Coyotes turned the ball over (an interception) on their first possession and picked up three more penalties for 35 more yards. But Mesa couldn't take advantage and ended up surrendering a 33-yard field goal by Skyline's Sylvester Becerra that cut the deficit to 10-3 with 7:02 left in the third.
Skyline forced its second turnover of the night two plays later, stripping Pietz-Noble of the ball and recovering it at the Mesa 32. Five plays later Logan Ruppert scored the first of two TD runs from 2 yards out. A try for two points failed, leaving Skyline behind 10-9 with 4:29 left in the period.
Making some big plays on offense in the second half for Skyline was receiver-turned running back Truman Tucker. Tucker carried four times for 87 yards in the quarter. His 20-yard run set up Ruppert's TD. Newton became the go-t runner with leading rusher Francisco Avitia (779 yards rushing for the year) out with a left leg injury. Avitia hurt his leg on Skyline's first possession. He finished with four rushes for minus-1 yard. The week before vs. Desert Mountain he rushed for 321 yards.
“He aggravated an injury he had early in the year on a quick kick in the first quarter,” Paffumi said. “Not having him hurt.”
The teams traded punts until the 7:47 mark of the fourth when Skyline began its 14-play, 5 minute, 40 second game-winning march. Skyline gambled and converted a fourth-and-one at its 15 with 5:14 left to play. Quarterback Michael Amado proceeded to complete 4-of-4 passes — with two fine catches of the four by Nate Woods. The last pass completion was critical as well — a shovel pass to Salvador Martinez-Sotelo that netted 11 yards on third-and-nine to the Mesa 4. Three plays later Ruppert scored his second TD on a 1-yard run for the winning points and Skyline's only lead of the game.
The game was a fight for playoff survival for both schools. Skyline (6-3) entered this week at No. 16 and Mesa (3-6) rested at No. 18. Mesa had the better intensity and execution in the first half. The Jackrabbits marched 80 yards in 14 plays and used up six minutes to take a 7-0 lead.
Mesa's leading rusher Turrell Pietz-Noble capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Two of Skyline's eight first-half penalties took place on the drive, but it was keyed by quarterback Chris Shelton. Shelton rushed for 32 yards on the drive and tossed an 11-yard completion to open the game. Pietz-Noble was more like a decoy on the possession, carrying four times for eight yards. He finished with 54 yards rushing unofficially, passing the 1,000-yard mark for the season (1,012).
“Our game plan was to take 23 (Pietz-Noble) away,” Paffumi said. “I thought we did a good job. I give 12 (Shelton) a lot of credit. He ran well for them.”
Skyline closes the season next week on the road at Red Mountain. Mesa finishes up on the road at Desert Mountain.