The Red Mountain football players and coaches milled around, celebrated a region championship and eventually made their way back their locker room.
Surprisingly, they weren’t penalized for loitering.
More on that later.
It was a sharp contrast from seven weeks ago when the Mountain Lions quickly exited the field after an embarrassing loss to Hamilton that saw the running clock get implemented in the first half as Red Mountain trailed by six touchdowns.
There were still eight games remaining after that debacle against the Huskies but it was hard to envision a seven-game win streak and the program’s first region title since at least 2012 back in September.
Yet, the Mountain Lions pulled it together and closed out the East Valley Region title Friday with a 14-0 win over Skyline.
“Part of this job is being a child psychologist,” Red Mountain longtime assistant and first-year head coach Mike Peterson said. “I said somethings after that game I hoped would be printed. I knew they’d play for me. They knew I was an emotional old man.
“Kudos to the boys. They’ve worked hard. We’ve learned to complete and as we get going here in the state tournament we hope to compete deep into it.”
The Mountain Lions (7-2, 4-0) scored on its first drive of the game – a bubble screen from Lance Lawson to Gerald Wilbon went 51 yards – and relied on a defense that has wreaked havoc for weeks for the win that comes with a banner for the gym wall.
“It means a lot to different to players and coaches,” junior defense end Alexander Randle said. “All in all we did our jobs and got the win.”
It didn’t come without a cost as safety Justin Coleman (hand) left in the first half and didn’t return, and quarterback Cannon Griner was ejected, meaning he can’t play next week.
“I did something I know better than,” said Griner, who pushed a Skyline player in the back of the helmet that was viewed as a punch. “Right now all I care about is the W. We won the region title and that was the most important thing.”
The Mountain Lions went up 14-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the second quarter when Wilbon hauled in a well placed ball by Lawson.
“We’ve been on working on those plays,” said Wilbon, who had three catches for 62 yards. “We hit that first one, and it set the tone. We weren’t going to be stopped.”
The game stopped, too. A lot.
There was little flow, rhythm and contintuity as the teams were flagged for a combined 33 penalties for an estimated 306 yards. That doesn’t count the declined and offsetting infractions that would have pushed it close to 40.
“It was a tough game to be part of,” said Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi, whose team “There were a lot of calls. Penalties can be called on every play and they pretty much did.”
The Coyotes (5-4, 3-1) lost much more than a chance to win its third straight region title.
They lost 1,000-yard rusher Aaron Wood (collarbone), quarterback Steve Castle (ribs) and fullback Brian Strobel (ankle) within the game and had to adjust on the fly with sophomore quarterback Marcus Brown.
“We don’t have a lot of depth and other kids had to go in,” Paffumi said. “The problem is because we don’t depth they don’t get a lot of reps in practice. So when they do get in the game the handoffs are all wrong, and people are going the wrong way. You will see a better product on the field next week, but when they have to go in early like that it is tough and it was obvious we couldn’t get anything going.”
The crucial mistake came in the fourth quarter when Skyline got within the Red Mountain 10-yard line, but fumbled. The Mountain Lions recovered it and ran out the clock for the win.
“It doesn’t matter who Skyline puts out there, Angelo is going to keep them in the game,” Peterson said. “They kept playing hard, and we responded and did what we needed to win it.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red Mountain 14, Skyline 0
Sky 0 0 0 0—0
RM 6 7 0 0—14
RM – Wilbon 51 pass from Lawson (kick failed), 11:35
RM – Wilbon 21 pass from Lawson (Lawson run), 9:36
First downs 12 13
Rush-yards 33-113 29-157
Com-Att-Int 5-13-1 6-15-2
Pass yards 38 98
Total yards 151 255
Fumbles/lost 6/2 2/0
Penalties 15-142 18-164
Sky -Wood 5-28, Castle 4-13, Brown 10-29, Truesdell 6-14, Lopez 1-3, Buchanan 5-12, Glover 1-11, Williams 1-3, McGowan 1-3. RM – McElroy 6-20, Lawson 13-63, Griner 6-59, Lujan 3-21, Strehl 1-(-)1.
Sky- Castle 2-6-1-23, Brown 3-7-0-15. RM -Lawson 3-3-0-62, Griner 3-12-2-36.
Sky-Glover 1-6, Lopez 3-13, Truesdell 1-7. RM – Wilbon 3-62, Lawson 2-28, Skabelund 1-8.