By the time Gerald Wilbon reached the end zone 102 yards later the Red Mountain sidelines had already erupted – including one somersault around the 20 yard-yard line – in victory celebration, his lungs were burning.
“I was gassed around the 50-yard line, and I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said. “I got a block and saw it was open the rest of the way, but I couldn’t breathe.”
The Mountain Lions’ 41-28 victory Friday over Gilbert in a 6A Conference non-region game had several take-your-breathe-away moments with most of Red Mountain’s coming in a 34-point second half.
“We were maturing as a team,” Mike Peterson said. “We made some good plays, and some bad. We are not there to hold their hands like we can in practice. We pulled one out with a lot of big plays. It was a great team effort.”
Red Mountain (3-2) got a great effort – “at times” Peterson interjected – from the defense against one of the state’s premier quarterbacks – Jack Plummer, who came into the game with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions along with a scholarship to Purdue.
The Mountain Lions sacked the 6-foot-5 Plummer seven times and intercepted him three times.
It all got started in the second half, with Red Mountain trailing 14-7, when Gabe Williams read a screen, tipped a pass in the air, caught it and returned it about 30 yards to the Tigers’ 21-yard line.
A half-back pass from Lance Lawson to quarterback Cannon Griner took it to the 1-yard line before Lawson scored to tie the game.
“They told me to look for the screen coming out of halftime, and when the tackle let me go I planted my foot, went back and tipped it and started running after I caught it,” said Williams, who had three and half sacks from his hybrid Cat positon. “I wanted to score, but I didn’t have it in me.”
The defense forced a 3-and-out and Red Mountain linebacker Delton Jackson crashed the middle of the punt formation to block the punt as Siope Kolomatangi fell on the ball in the end zone for a 21-14 lead.
Plummer, who completed 21 of 42 passes for 354 yards, came back to throw touchdowns on the next two possessions for a 28-21 lead with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
The Red Mountain defense had three more interceptions – one by Kalim Reece-Peeplez and two by Wilbon – and another pass break up by Lawson on fourth down to give the ball back to the Red Mountain offense.
The Mountain Lions went to a full house backfield behind an offensive line that is starting three sophomores and cashed in on the power running of senior Alejandro Lujan, who had 10 carries for 80 yards with all of it coming in the second half.
Red Mountain tied it on Lujan’s 4-yard score. It was a nice contribution from Lujan, who lost his starting role after being suspended for breaking school and team rules.
“I made a mistake and put myself before the team,” Lujan said. “I’m back and focused on the team, and it felt great to get back in there and do something good for us.”
Red Mountain went ahead for good when Lawson connected with Griner on the half-back pass for a second time, this time an 8-yard touchdown with 5:10 left in the game.
It was plenty of time for Gilbert and Plummer to tie it but the final two possessions for the Tigers ended with interceptions with the last one going to Wilbon in the end zone before the cornerback took it back 102 yards.
“They did a lot of the same things they did last year,” Plummer said of the pressure and defensive look from Red Mountain. “We didn’t execute the way we wanted to.”
The win gives Red Mountain a three-game win streak heading to next week’s 6A East Valley opener against Dobson.
“Schools still think last year (semifinal appearance) was a fluke,” senior safety Justin Coleman said. “This year every is different, but we are getting better and better and we are trying to prove we are going to be in the race this year. We are getting stronger and starting to believe.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red Mountain 41, Gilbert 28
RM 0 7 14 20-41
G 7 7 14 0-28
G – Tanner 6 pass from Plummer (Duran kick), :14
RM – Griner 26 run (Huffman kick), 11:48
G – Amendolara 29 pass from Plummer (Duran kick), 7:20
RM – Lawson 1 run (Huffman kick), 9:43
RM – Koloamatangi blocked punt recovery (Huffman kick), 8:54
G – Otanez 3 pass from Plummer (Duran kick), 5:23
G – Tanner 50 pass from Plummer (Duran kick), 3:06
RM – Lujan 4 run (Huffman kick), 10:49
RM – Griner 8 pass from Lawson (Huffman kick), 5:10
RM – Wilbon 102 yard INT return (no kick), 0:00.
First downs 17 15
Rush-yards 40-168 23-20
Comp-Att-Int 10-21-1 21-43-4
Pass yards 107 354
Total yards 275 374
Fumb/lost 1/0 3/0
Penal-yards 10-105 8-68
RM – McElroy 16-42, Lawson 4-17, Griner 10-29, Lujan 10-80, Winfield 1-6. G – Middleton 6-6, Plummer 12-7, McKernan 1-2, Team 1-5.
RM – Griner 8-17-1-79, Lawson 2-3-0-28, Strehl 0-1-0-0. G – J. Plummer 21-42-3-354, W. Plummer 0-1-1-0.
RM -Bowman 2-10, Wheat 2-39, McElroy 1-2, Wilbon 1-9, Skabelund 1-8, Reece-Peeplez 1-11, Griner 2-28. G – Tanner 5-106, Middleton 1-22, Hudson 4-72, Amendolara 1-29, W. Plummer 5-78, Otanez 1-3, Laganke 4-44.
RM – Huffman (35, 37).