Highland got all it wanted and more from visiting Mesa on Friday night before pulling out a 24-21 win when Noah Miller hit a 26-yard field goal in the final seconds, keeping the Hawks' playoff hopes alive.
Highland (6-3) needed a victory over Mesa (2-7) to maintain any hope of making the postseason and delivered in dramatic fashion.
The Jackrabbits came out the aggressors and scored on the opening drive of the game on a 24-yard run by Lucas Moen.
The Hawks would quickly answer with a 17-yard touchdown pass by Blake Young to Colin Gardner, but that was the one bright spot of an otherwise-forgettable half for the Hawks, who trailed 14-7 at halftime.
"Turnovers and penalties will kill you," Highland coach Pete Wahlheim said. "We had a couple of turnovers and two or three penalties in the first half, we knew that if we cleaned that up, we would be okay."
The Hawks tied the score late in the third quarter on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Young to Devin James. The Jackrabbits retook the lead, though, on a 3-yard touchdown run by Eugene Mcllhenny. It would remain 21-14 Mesa until about five minutes remained in the fourth quarter ,when Young threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this one to Jake Brown from 18 yards out. Young avoided the rush and threw a low pass to Brown, who made a great diving catch.
“I was open - it was a post - I saw Blake (Young) avoid the tackle and he kept his eyes downfield, and I stuck my hand up and he threw it right there. It was a little low and behind so I just came back for it and laid out for it,” Brown said.
The Jackrabbits took the ensuing drive into Hawks territory but turned it over on downs inside the Highland 40-yard line with 2:10 left in the game.
That was just enough time for the Hawks. A 35-yard run on third down by Zachary McGlothin got Highland to the Mesa 33-yard line, and the drive eventually reached the 8-yard line with 6 seconds left. That set the stage for Miller to attempt his first career game-winning field goal. With the Jackrabbits sending the house in an attempt to block the kick, Miller got just enough air to get the ball over the line and through the uprights for the win.
“I am just so happy right now," Miller said. "I am so glad I made it and got the win for the team. It is not just for me, but we have suffered a lot of injuries, and I am so glad we got this win. Our offense really stepped up on that last drive.”
For Mesa, it was another disappointing loss in what has been a disappointing season. For the second time in three games, the Jackrabbits lost by three points, and they will now have to turn their focus toward their final game, a home matchup next Friday against longtime rival Mountain View.
“All loses are tough, and when you struggle like we have all year, it would have been nice to come out on top," Mesa coach Kelley Moore said. "I think we played our first complete game of the season tonight. Highland did a great job on their last drive and did what they had to do to win. The thing about Mesa is we are resilient. I am grateful our next opponent is Mountain View. It will keep them focused. All our guys want to play Mountain View.”
The Hawks will play their final game of the regular season at home against Red Mountain. A win would all but guarantee a trip to the playoffs, whereas a loss would put the Hawks back on the bubble.
“I can’t figure out this power-point system, but I know we had to win tonight and we found a way to win," Wahlheim said. "Give Mesa credit; they come to play and are a tough bunch.”
Highland 24, Mesa 21
Mesa 14 0 7 0 - 21
Highland 7 0 7 10 - 24
M - Moen 24 run (Pereles kick)
H - Gardner 17 pass from Young (Miller kick)
M - Mcilhenny 6 run (Pereles kick)
H - James 6 pass from Young (Miller kick)
M - Mcilhenny 3 run (Pereles kick)
H - Brown 18 pass from Young (Miller kick)
H - Miller 26 FG
First Downs: Mesa 16, Highland 21
Rushes-Yds: Mesa 39-167, Highland 45-236
Comp-Att-Int: Mesa 6-12-0, Highland 12-20-2
Passing Yds: Mesa 130, Highland 151
Fumbles-Lost: Mesa 0-0, Highland 2-1
Penalties-Yds: Mesa 4-36, Highland 5-35