Highland squeaks out defensive struggle over Mesa - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Highland 7, Mesa 3 Highland squeaks out defensive struggle over Mesa

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 9:54 pm | Updated: 4:28 pm, Tue Sep 10, 2013.

It's all about the result. At least, that was the best way Highland's football team viewed its 7-3 victory against Mesa on Thursday night.

It might not have drawn the highest TV ratings based on style of play or aesthetics, and there was no shortage of physical and mental mistakes by both schools.

But, for the Hawks, watching the not-so-pretty film might be accompanied by the silver lining that 1-1 is much better than 0-2. 

Citing missed open receivers, dropped passes, a could-have-been costly fumble and seven penalties, "The defense played hard and carried us tonight," Hawks coach Pete Wahlheim said.

After Mesa's Noe Pereles nailed a 43-yard field goal (with at least 10 yards to spare) to give Mesa a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, the Hawks responded a few minutes later with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan McCord was the end of the night's scoring.

The scoring drive was set up by a 22-yard run by McCord, whose toughness drew Wahlheim's praise while playing at significantly less than 100 percent. Blake Young also connected with Colin Gardner and Dusty Cook for 10- and 12-yard routes.

Otherwise, both teams moved the ball intermittently on the ground and with quick, short passes, but both also were bogged down by penalties and the opposing defense.

"Offensively I don't think we could have played any worse," Wahlheim said. "We had guys running open and missing things ... "We need to be more consistent."

Ahead 7-3 at halftime, Highland dropped a fourth-and-3 pass which would have been a first down to give the ball back to Mesa.

The Jackrabbits (1-1) promptly went on their best drive of the night. Nicknamed "Brunswick" by Mesa coach Kelley Moore afterward, 5-foot-7, 175-pound Javier Martinez was Mesa's best offensive threat of the night out of the backfield (34 yards rushing, 33 yards receiving).

His running and screen passes moved Mesa down to the Highland 11-yard line. But Chris Shelton's fade pass into the end zone became a jump ball and was intercepted by Highland's Casey Cole.

"Those things happen," Moore said. "Their kid jumped higher."

"They scored seven points, you should win every game doing that. (The defense) played with heart and passion."

Later in the third quarter, Highland held a field position advantage and forced Mesa to punt from deep in its own territory. The Hawks' Chip White returned Mesa's punt to the Mesa 15, but the Hawks fumbled and Mesa recovered on the next play.

Both teams exchanged the ball in the fourth quarter. Mesa mounted its final drive with just over three minutes left, but after reaching midfield, the Jackrabbits were intercepted with under two minutes remaining.

"I was impressed with our defense and the kids played their butts off," Moore said. "We found out a few more things we've got to work with."

Highland 7, Mesa 3

Highland   0  7  0  0  -- 7

Mesa        0  3  0  0  -- 3

First Downs:  Highland 13, Mesa 10

Rushing:  Highland 29-126, Mesa 23-81

Passing:  Highland 12-20-167-0-0, Mesa 9-15-67-0-2

Fumbles:  Highland 1-1, Mesa 2-0

Penalties:  Highland 7-55, Mesa 4-25

Mesa - Noe Pereles 43 FG

Highland - Ryan McCord 1 run (Noah Miller kick)

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]