Putting their past behind them, the Mountain View Toros are rushing into the postseason after a one-year hiatus with a little momentum.
Pounding the ball with running back Weston Birtcher, who scored three times and had 165 yards rushing, Mountain View got past city rival Mesa 24-10 on Friday night. The Toros finished 7-3 and having gone into the game eighth in power points shouldn’t have to leave the city for its first-round game next week.
“Going into the playoffs with a home game, it’s great,” Birtcher said, "because last year, as a junior, we didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in school history, which was very hard for us. Now, the greatest feeling is going into the playoffs and everybody is 0-0, and we are going in to play for state and it’s just a great feeling.”
For Mountain View, it is the completion of a two-year journey under coach Chad DeGrenier. The Toros missed the postseason in 2011, and the questions continued into this year after big losses to highly ranked Desert Mountain and Desert Ridge to begin this season.
But Mountain View finally got its offense in gear, winning six straight before stumbling at Mountain Pointe last week.
The win over Mesa (2-8) gives the Toros some momentum going into the postseason.
“They have done a great job and they have bought in,” DeGrenier said of his team. “We didn’t play like we are capable of. It’s a rivalry game, you find a way to win, and we finally played ball in the third and fourth quarter.”
But Friday’s win didn’t come easy, as the Jackrabbits stayed with the Toros for nearly three quarters with the help of some field position and timely defense.
Mountain View fumbled and threw two interceptions in the first half and trailed 3-0 at the break. A rushed punt led to a big runback and set up the first of Birtcher’s touchdowns.
“Today I was reading stuff a little bit better than I normally have, cutting things back,” Birtcher said. “But give it to the line, give it to (quarterback) John Clark for giving me the ball.”
The turning point may have been back-to-back-to-back fumbles in the third quarter.
Mesa was driving and looked to have a first down in Toros territory, but receiver Rafael Bellorin fumbled as he was being tackled and Connor Ipsen recovered at the Mountain View 33. However, on the next play, Cayman Nielsen fumbled and Mesa’s Heleman Tuitu’u recovered.
Back in business at the Mountain View 29, Russell Baptiste fumbled on the next play and Birtcher recovered.
Having had limited success through the air and with two key offensive players out with injuries, the Toros decided to run the ball.
“We saw some things at halftime that we could exploit,” DeGrenier said. “At that point, we needed to hunker down, get the lead and try to get rolling from there.”
Birtcher carried the ball on six straight plays, and although the Toros had to settle for a 43-year Luis Bustillos field goal, the tone had been set.
When Mesa quarterback Lucas Moen got a low snap on a punt, he ran around and kicked a squibber that Mountain View’s Dakota Matthews smartly picked up at midfield and ran back to the 18. Birtcher scored on the next play.
The Jackrabbits drove into the red zone on the next possession, but the Toros held on a fourth-and-10 at the 19 and then got a 47-yard TD from Birtcher with 4:20 to play to help secure the win.
“Our defense really carried the team throughout the whole year,” said Mesa running back Baptiste. “Offense, we could have picked it up a lot more. That is the one thing I wish we could go back and fix. That would be it.”
Mountain View 24, Mesa 10
Mountain View 0 0 10 14 -- 24
Mesa 0 3 0 7 -- 10
M-Pereles 30 FG
MV-Bustillos 43 FG
MV-Birtcher 18 run (Bustillos kick)
MV-Birtcher 47 run (Bustillos kick)
MV-Birtcher 1 run (Bustillos kick)
M-Moen 2 run (Pereles kick)
First downs: MV 11, Mesa 12
Rushes-yards: 29-183, Mesa 39-130
Passing yards: MV 136, Mesa 134
Passing: MV 11-27-2, Mesa 11-22-2
Fumbles-lost: MV 3-2, Mesa 4-3
Penalties-yards: MV 4-30, Mesa 3-40