After beating Basha in early September for the team’s first win, Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson talked to the players about it starting a snowball.
And with enough momentum it would keeping getting bigger and they could take the Mountain Lions all the way to the state title game.
That snowball grew exponentially for 10 straight weeks, but was swallowed up on Friday night by an avalanche created by the defending state champions.
Seventh-seeded Red Mountain was decimated by turnovers, short fields and a prolific passing game in a 51-10 loss to No. 3 Chandler in the 6A Conference semifinals at Hamilton High.
“It was trouble from the start,” Peterson said. “We had a chance for a stop on their first drive, didn’t get it. They scored. We have a turnover. They scored. They are a very good team and too many things went their way.”
The Chandler passing game looked as if it was running routes in a pregame walk-through as junior quarterback Jacob Conover threw for 367 yards and seven touchdowns, including five to senior Gunner Romney, in three quarters of play to power the Wolves to their third state title appearance in four years.
“I was surprised I was getting (covered) one-on-one,” said Romey, whose team will face Perry on Dec. 2 in Tucson. “They were set on stopping the run. It left us open and Jacob had great touch tonight.”
Red Mountain (10-3) kept it 6-0 after the first quarter, but too many turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions) and the short fields it put the defense changed the game.
A fumble sandwiched between two blown coverages saw the score go from 9-0 to 23-0 in 37 seconds of game action.
“I looked up at the scoreboard, and it was only 9-0,” Peterson said. “One big play and we are right there. Then in a blink it was a three-score game.”
The Red Mountain defense was put in a compromising position at times – Chandler (11-2) had four drives start on the Mountain Lion side of the 50 – but the defense didn’t get much pressure and rarely made the Chandler offense punt or turnover on downs.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” senior Gabe Williams said. “We didn’t do the things we usually do. We were battling and so were they, but we just didn’t make any plays.”
The offense had one of those games where something positive looked to be happening it was trumped by a turnover. Twice a ball carrier broke loose into the secondary – once on a run and another on a pass play – only to fumble.
Fittingly the team’s only touchdown came when senior wide receiver Gerald Wilbon recovered Ty McElroy’s forward fumble after a tough 8-yard run to the 2.
“It was frustrating; too many mistakes,” senior quarterback Cannon Griner said. “We thought we could expose their cornerbacks, get some big plays, but we never got to that part of the game plan.”
It was a night of dysfunction that broke the program’s longest winning streak, but it didn’t erase everything that was accomplished in 2017, especially for the large senior class.
“They’re hurting right now,” Peterson said. “They did some really great things. As a first-year coach I got to coach a senior class that I already knew. There are relationships there and that will last a very long time.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chandler 51, Red Mountain 10
RM 0 0 0 10-10
C 6 24 21 0-51
C – Romney 17 pass from Conover (pass failed), 8:28
C – Peterman 40 FG, 8:53
C – Romney 71 pass from Conover (Peterman kick), 5:36
C – Romney 45 pass from Conover (Peterman kick), 5:09
C- Romney 12 pass from Conover (Peterman kick), :12
C – Caldwell 51 pass from Conover (Peterman kick), 9:39
C – Liebrock 6 pass from Conover (Peterman kick), 5:11
C – Romney 47 pass from Conover (Peterman kick) 2:02
RM – Huffman 27 field goal
RM – Wilbon fumble recovery in end zone (Huffman kick)
First downs 11 17
Rush-yards 29-176 22-74
Com-Att-Int 8-21-2 16-25-0
Pass yards 99 367
Total yards 275 441
Fumbles/lost 3/2 0/0
Penalties 5-35 4-30
RM – Lawson 9-45, Griner 6-22, McElroy 5-42, Lujan 6-76, Angel Ramirez 3-11. C – Anderson 15-46, Brooks 5-18, Conover 2-10.
RM – Griner 7-17-1-81, Lawson 1-3-1-18, Strehl 0-1-0-0. C – Conover 16-24-0-367, Bulger 0-1-0-0.
RM – Bowers 1-8, Lawson 4-40, Sanchez 1-18, McElroy 1-22. C – Romney 8-230, Caldwell 2-66, Liebrock 3-42, Anderson 1-0, Hart 1-12, Puffer 1-33.
Missed field goals
C – Peterson 31 (blocked)