There were a few close losses for Westwood last season, and then the heartbreaking season-opening defeat to Red Mountain on Aug. 27.
When Juan Zazueta came up one yard short of a touchdown on the last play of the first half against Mesa on Friday, it seemed luck would never shift in the Warriors’ favor.
But the Warriors didn’t leave anything to chance in the second half, shutting down the fifth-ranked Jackrabbits and rallying for a 26-21 victory in a 5A-I nonregion clash at Westwood.
The victory moves Westwood to 2-1 on the season, but it is the first signature victory for the program since Greg Mendez took over in 2008. Mesa had started 2-0 this season and made the state championship game last year.
“The kids finally dug deep,” Mendez said. “We’ve been trying to get over the hump for two or three years here. Our guys have been waiting for a big win.”
The Warriors trailed 21-12 with one untimed down left in the first half, when Zazueta caught a pass from Jesse Resendez at the 3-yard line, turned and lunged toward the goal line, but came up a few feet short.
Westwood shook off the near-miss as Hayden Clark ran in a pair of touchdowns in the second half — the second one from 1 yard out with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter — and held Mesa’s offense in check for the victory.
The Jackrabbits totaled only 39 yards of offense in the second half, and quarterback Jeremy Noble was picked off by Valencio Gray on a fourth down near midfield with 2:29 remaining to end the comeback attempt.
“We knew we were going to come out and get the win,” Gray said. “We never doubted it.”
Westwood ran the clock out from there, as a 21-yard dash by Billy Sueing with a minute remaining secured the victory.
Mesa’s best chance in the fourth quarter came when the Jackrabbits recovered a muffed punt in Westwood territory, but that chance produced no points.
“When you are on the 25, or whatever it was, and you don’t score, you don’t deserve to win,” Mesa coach Kelley Moore said.
Sueing was one of several Westwood skill players who made his presence felt, catching seven balls for 109 yards. Gray had 22 carries for 128 yards and a score, and added the late interception. Clark carried the ball only three times, but scored each time.
Westwood had more than 400 yards of total offense in the game, leading to the four touchdowns.
“Any time we can put 26 on a Mesa defense I’m pretty excited, because they’re solid,” Mendez said.
Two weeks ago, Westwood had a 22-point halftime lead but lost by six to Red Mountain. This time, the Warriors were the ones with the second-half comeback.
“They’ve been waiting a long time to beat Mesa,” Moore said. “And you know what? They deserved it.”