For the first eight games of the season, nothing separated Pinnacle and Desert Mountain.
For the first 46 minutes of their showdown Friday night, the two Scottsdale schools still could not distance themselves for one another.
So when push came to shove, a senior took matters into his own hands and scripted a thrilling finish on Senior Night.
Pinnacle’s senior quarterback Michael Sanders was faced with a 3rd and 9 at his 10-yard line with just over two minutes to play. He calmly completed an 18-yard strike to junior receiver Danny Galindo and from there the Pioneers found the breathing room they had been searching for all night.
Sanders put the final touches on the brilliant 91-yard drive -- in which he completed five of seven passes for 58 yards -- with an 11-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Mason Hatton with 14 seconds remaining. And, at least for one night Pinnacle (8-1, 5-1) had the last laugh, beating Desert Mountain 28-21 in a wild battle with playoff implications.
“We just never panicked at the end,” Sanders said of the final drive. “We believed in our coaches, we believed in each other and because of it we executed when it came down to the end. We weren’t going to let this one slip on our Senior Night.”
Sanders finished 17-of-25 with 261 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his composure under pressure that had Pioneers’ head coach Dana Zupke glowing after the team’s gut-wrenching victory.
“Michael Sanders is definitely the most underrated quarterback in the state,” said Zupke. “He’s come through for us all year. Whenever we’ve need a big play from him, he’s delivered. I’m very proud of him, because he’s just a total leader.”
The Pioneers’ statement win of 2012 didn’t materialize solely from the actions of one player, though. Running back Josh Hoekstra – who came into Friday night with 1,212 yards rushing -- added to his terrific junior season with 243 yards rushing and a 58-yard touchdown run.
Galindo and Hatton weren’t too shabby in the slot either. The two juniors combined for 13 catches and 176 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“I knew how big that third down catch was late, because if we didn’t complete that, Desert Mountain may have come back and won the game,” said Galindo. “We just really wanted this one, not only because it means we might get a home playoff game, but also for our seniors. They wanted this game more than anything and with it being their last guaranteed home game, we had to get this one for them.”
The game may have been won in the final seconds, but Desert Mountain (7-2, 3-2) certainly didn’t help itself in the first half. Tony Tabor’s offense moved the ball effectively over the course of the first 24 minutes of play, but a costly interception, untimely penalties and a turnover on downs kept the Wolves off the scoreboard heading into halftime.
It’s hard to say whether the early points would have ultimately made the difference Friday night, but Tabor felt those missed opportunities put the Wolves in a hole.
“In the first half, we had the ball three times inside the 20-yard line and had nothing to show for it,” said Tabor. “We might not have for sure won the game, because Dana’s squad did a good job. But we were able to move the ball and yet couldn’t make a big play to finish off drives.
“When you get down that deep, you have to score. And, we just didn’t do that. Against a good football team like Pinnacle, you can’t afford to that.”
Junior quarterback Kyle Allen finished 26 of 41 for 339 passing yards and three touchdowns and even in defeat his coach remains confident that as this team moves toward the next month’s playoffs they have the chance to compete with anyone in the state, including the Pioneers.
“I think we have a real good chance come playoff time,” said Tabor. “I believe we are every bit as good as Pinnacle. We are a good football team, and they are a good football team. This happened two years ago. We got to play them in the regular season and then again in the playoffs. Maybe we see them again this year.”
Pinnacle 0 6 15 7
Desert Mountan 0 0 14 7
First Downs: Pinnacle 19, Desert Mountain 18
Rushes-yards: Pinnacle 32-273, Desert Mountain 26-40
Passing yards: Pinnacle 261, Desert Mountain 339
Comp-Att-Int: Pinnacle 17-25-1, Desert Mountain 26-42-1
Fumbles-lost: Pinnacle 2-1, Desert Mountain 2-1
Penalty-yards: Pinnacle 9-72, Desert Mountain 7-45
P- 30-yard catch by Danny Galindo from Michael Sanders
DM- 38-yard catch by Steven Campbell from Kyle Allen (Taylor kick)
P- 58-yard run by Josh Hoekstra (Two-point conversion good)
DM- 38-yard catch by Alec Waldman from Kyle Allen
P- 1-yard run by Sanders (Nichols kick)
DM- 5-yard catch by Steven Campbell from Kyle Allen (Taylor kick)
P- 11-yard catch by Mason Hatton from Michael Sanders