Out of breath, unable to concentrate during school, and his voice hoarse from screaming, Dominic Mercurio could only smile.
The Corona del Sol junior running back earned that grin and his teammates’ prodding on Friday as the Aztecs shook off 2½ hours of stale offense and stalemate football against Desert Mountain, and scored on both overtime possessions for an emotional 17-10 overtime victory at Desert Mountain.
Emotional because it gave new coach Zane Zamenski his first win at the school following a tumultuous spring and summer in which he nearly lost his job following an investigation which confirmed allegations of lewd comments made toward his team and others on campus.
And emotional because of how a young, inexperienced Aztecs team held itself upright through a dozen punts on the night.
A 2009 season which couldn’t be forgotten fast enough was, in essence, long forgotten.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Mercurio said. “It’s the best feeling ever.”
A relentless defense can take credit for most of the night, when both teams put a gridlock to the scoreboard with mistakes and being one step out of sync.
That is, until a 3-3 tie forced overtime. A passing game which struggled all night was given a short field to work with, and quarterback Evan Kinney found Mercurio out of the backfield and into the end zone twice in the extra sessions for touchdowns.
The Wolves took the lead in the first overtime when quarterback Drew Seaman (12 of 22 passing, 119 yards) ran a perfect draw play in for a 10-3 lead, but Mercurio (31 rushes, 139 yards) and kicker Zac VonAllworden forced a second OT possession, and after Mercurio caught another pass on a bootleg fake, the Wolves couldn’t score a second touchdown.
Desert Mountain kept a 3-0 lead at halftime thanks to Daaiim Brown’s blocked field goal on the last play of the first half.
VonAllworden tied the score in the third quarter with a field goal, and the Wolves were about to take the lead several times in the second half, but a long completion by Seaman was stopped by a fumble, and another streaking wide receiver was overthrown by a step.
The Wolves started at midfield or in Corona territory four times and wound up with three points.
A 5A Division II state semifinalist and host of a playoff game for the first time in school history last year, the Wolves have five new linemen and new receivers.
“I felt we played great defense all night and gave ourselves plenty of chances, but I don’t care who you play if you don’t take advantage of opportunities like ones we had,” Wolves coach Tony Tabor said. “(The offense) learned what it was like playing a good varsity program. This isn’t JV football anymore.”
Tabor expects his group to improve the most between now and next Friday against Mesquite, while Zamenski allotted himself an hour to enjoy his first ‘W’ at his new school.
Proud of his team’s willingness to continue playing during rough stretches offensively – “There’s something to be said for being steadfast” – the Aztecs found few details to be enamored about.
Except for the celebration en route to the bus ride home.
“You can’t help but feel it’ll mean something to people and help everyone move on,” Zamenski said of his naysayers. “There’s no salvation like a victory.”