As Austin Carver lined up for the 20-yard field goal that would give Gilbert its first win of the season, students climbed over security gates in anticipation and Tigers quarterback Conner Helvig tried his hardest to keep his eyes on the field.
"I didn’t even want to look,” Helvig said. “I was praying it was going in.”
Carver, though, didn’t let the moment affect his kick, and the ball sailed through the uprights with 6 seconds on the clock to give Gilbert a 38-35 victory over visiting Mesquite in a Division I game Friday.
"They make it way worse for me in practice, so it was pretty easy,” Carver said. “I felt good, and I couldn’t feel any better right now.”
Carver’s game-winning field goal was set up by Helvig’s 24-yard run two plays prior that put Gilbert on the Mesquite 3-yard line.
It was big play after big play at the end of the game for the Tigers, as Helvig’s run came two plays after James Hardman intercepted Wildcats quarterback Payton Haslam and put Gilbert at the Mesquite 36-yard line.
The Tigers defense had missed a few previous second-half opportunities against Haslam, letting potential interceptions slip through their hands and allowing a couple big pass plays.
"I think making some of the big plays that we made enabled that intensity to continue in the second half,” Gilbert coach Leland Rodgers said. “And really, coming up with that interception at the end there, that was huge.”
Gilbert (1-3) turned three Mesquite turnovers into 17 points. Two of those turnovers came on special teams.
"We’re a young team,” Mesquite coach Matt Gracey said. “We had a dog fight for the first time.”
The Wildcats (0-4) played well and never trailed until the Tigers went up 35-28 with 5:52 left in the game. Haslam finished with 353 passing yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s frustrating because I felt we should’ve won the game,” Gracey said. “But again, we’re building something, working with young guys, and sometimes we make young-guy errors.
"But you look at it and I thought we played a heck of a lot better today.”
While Mesquite must wait another week to try to get its first win, Rodgers could finally celebrate his first win as Gilbert’s coach. And the fact that it came against Mesquite, Gilbert’s rival and the team he was the defensive coordinator for prior to leaving for his new position, just made it that much sweeter.
"It feels good,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of history with the coaches and even some of the players. So I would have liked to have gotten a win earlier in the season, but if it had to be the first one, it was good to get against our rival.”
The players also felt a sense of relief.
"It feels like a monkey has gotten off our back,” Helvig said. “It feels pretty good."
Gilbert 38, Mesquite 35
M – Stewart 80 pass from Haslam (James kick)
G – Layser 23 pass from Helvig (Carver kick)
M – Perry 23 pass from Haslam (James kick)
G – Thomas 3 pass from Helvig (Carver kick)
M – Stewart 45 pass from Haslam (James kick)
G – Thomas 5 pass from Helvig (Carver kick)
M – Stewart 71 pass from Haslam (James kick)
G – Layser 18 pass from Helvig (Carver kick)
G – Hironaka 7 pass from Helvig (Carver kick)
M – Ford 18 pass from Haslam (James kick)
G – Carver 20 FG
First Downs 9 13
Rush-Yds 21-53 33-162
Pass Yds 353 150
Comp-Att-Int 19-28-1 19-29-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yds 8-60 7-75