If Friday is any indication of how the Ron Wisniewski era at Red Mountain is going to go, it will be fun.
The Mountain Lions completed the biggest comeback in school history – trailing 32-10 at the half before beating Westwood 38-32 on Friday in the season opener for both teams.
“It’s crazy. If it is all going to be like this, I need to get out of this job right now,” Wisniewski joked after the win.
The Warriors used the big play – two scoring runs over 50 yards and a 99-yard interception return – to build their lead but a couple of late drives and two big defensive stops gave Wisniewski his first win – the first by someone other than longtime coach Jim Jones.
“Yes, sir, it’s going to be like this,” quarterback Clint Cogswell said of the new era at Red Mountain. “But hopefully we won’t make them all as close as this.”
Even after Cougar Garcia carried the ball in from the 6 with 2:57 left to give Red Mountain its first lead since the first quarter, the Lions had to dodge a bullet.
Westwood converted a fourth down with a questionable 26-yard pass from Jesse Resendez to Josh Villanueva with 26 seconds remaining. Then, it appeared that they connected for a touchdown but it was called back on the Warriors’ 12th penalty of the night, an illegal man downfield call. Resendez tried one last gasp but Red Mountain’s Jorge Pinero intercepted the ball at his 3 as time expired.
“Ours guys hung on as long as they could,” Westwood coach Greg Mendez said. “We just missed it.”
Westwood didn’t come in heralded – the Warriors were 5-6 last year – but running back/defensive back Billy Sueing will get some talk started after taking an end around 57 yards for a touchdown and then stepping in front of a receiver on his own 1-yard-line and returning it the distance with 24 seconds left in the first quarter to give his team an 18-7 lead.
Mendez said the plan in the final seconds had been to try and get the ball to Sueing or wideout Juan Zazueta.
“Josh ended up wide open, but apparently there was a (line)man downfield,” Mendez said. “Things happen.”
Red Mountain moved the ball – it gained 153 yards on the ground in the first half – but was burned by the Westwood speed.
Red Mountain, coming off a lackluster 6-5 season a year ago but not that far removed from back-to-back state semifinals appearances, also was trying out two quarterbacks to replace John O’Connor.
Clint Cogswell started and Aaron Eiseler played in the second quarter. Both seniors ran and moved the offense but Cogswell threw the interception and Eiseler had trouble in the red zone.
However, Cogswell took advantage of a Westwood miscue in the third quarter to get Red Mountain back in the game. Red Mountain’s Jon Fearer recovered a Warrior fumble at the Westwood 39. Just before the 25-second play clock expired, Cogswell hit on a pass to Billy Freeman, who was open behind the Warrior defense, for a 39-yard score with 7:02 left in the third.
Cogswell engineered another scoring drive capped by a 9-yard pass to Freeman on the first play of the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 32-24.
Westwood couldn’t move the ball on the ensuing drive and when Juan Zazueta’s punt went off the side of his foot after a snap that bounced to him, it traveled two yards to the Warrior 28.
Cogswell needed seven plays – including a quick hit over the middle to Jacob Tune on fourth-and-6 – to score again with 6:04 remaining. He hit Coleton Thornton on a 4-yard pass but failed to convert the ensuing 2-point play.
Westwood still had time to kill and faced a fourth-and-1 at its 29. It lined up to go for the first down, called time out and then called a pitch play that Red Mountain stacked at the line.