In a game featuring pinball-like scoring, Gilbert Mesquite running back Lukas Scott impersonated the ball, bouncing off defenders and creating havoc for Gilbert Highland.
The bowling ball of a running back scored three times in the second half — amassing 136 yards — as the visiting Wildcats outscored the hosts, 54-32, in a Fiesta Region regular season finale.
Mesquite (4-6, 1-3) is projected as the No. 16 seed in the 5A Division I playoffs and will take on No. 1 Hamilton.
“Doggone it, we finally played a complete game on offense and defense,” Mesquite coach Mike Reardon said.
Highland, which also needed a win to keep its season alive, finishes the year at 4-6 overall and 0-4 in the region.
The Wildcats will have plenty of momentum to build upon from both sides of the ball.
Mesquite’s defense scored three times and limited the Hawks to 87 yards passing in the second half after giving up 165 in a first half that included four lead changes.
Offensively, the Wildcats scored on all four of their second-half possessions, despite losing starting quarterback Beau Delis. Junior Matthew Westergard stepped in and the Wildcats gained more than 200 yards in the second half.
“We came here with the intention of winning, and we showed our heart,” said Scott, who finished with 187 yards on 25 carries.
Scott scored on consecutive Mesquite third-quarter possessions. His 3-yard plunge capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive to begin the second half and gave the Wildcats the lead for good at 27-25.
Following a Highland fumble — one of four turnovers for the game — Scott scored again, this time on a 31-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. His two-point run made it 35-25 late in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats increased their lead to 42-25 on the second play of the final frame, as Westergard found Trevor Kohl on a 49-yard scoring pass.
Highland responded with an 11-play scoring drive of its own, capped by a Jeremy Fuhst to Ty West 18-yard pass to make it 42-32. It was West’s third touchdown catch of the game. He finished with 13 catches for 124 yards. Fuhst sparkled in the first half, completing 15 of 18 passes for 140 yards. But in the second half he was only 9-for-20 for 87 yards.
“No. 3 (West) was giving us fits in the first half,” Reardon said. “We made a little change at halftime on him and did a better job. But overall we just executed better.”
Scott put the game out of reach with a 45-yard scoring run to push Mesquite up 48-32 with 4:45 remaining.
“If we make the playoffs it just adds to this win,” Scott said. “We knew we had to win and we came out and executed.”
Mesquite capped the scoring on Jonny Breeze’s 30-yard interception return late in the game. Nolan Jeffries started the Wildcats scoring, recovering a fumble in the end zone on Highland’s second possession.
Mesquite increased its lead to 14-3 when Adam Marquez returned an interception 45 yards, five plays after the recovered fumble.