It is not about how you start, it’s how you finish.
After an 0-2 start to the 2017 season, questions were raised regarding Red Mountain and its ability to make another deep postseason run under first-year coach Mike Peterson.
However, Peterson and the Mountain Lions have turned the two straight losses into six straight wins, the latest coming Friday night in a 55-21 win over Mesa.
Now at 6-2 and 3-0 in region play, the Mountain Lions have a chance at the East Valley Region championship next week against Skyline (5-3, 3-0).
“We grew up,” Peterson said. “They were a young team and I was a young coach. We bonded together and now we are starting to peak at the right time. It’s good for the kids.”
Despite the region championship looming, Peterson insists that his team is not worrying about what is to come next week, instead enjoying the win over Mesa.
As they should.
Red Mountain jumped ahead of the Jackrabbits early in the first quarter thanks to standout Lance Lawson.
The senior lined up in a wildcat formation behind center and found a hole up the middle, taking it in for the 23-yard score on his first carry of the game to put the Mountain Lions up 7-0.
“I only made one cut, it was a good hole and a good block,” Lawson said about the run. “We just keep getting better and better as a team. We have been on this six-game win streak and hopefully we can keep it going.”
A pair of punts between the two teams later and Red Mountain was knocking on the door again.
Inside the Mesa 10-yard line, quarterback Cannon Griner found tight end Carter Wheat at the 1-yard line.
However, a big hit by a Mesa defender and the ball popped free and into the end zone. Luckily, receiver Kalim Reece-Peeplez was in the right position to fall on the ball.
The video-game like touchdown gave Red Mountain the 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
On defense, the Mountain Lions had the Jackrabbits number the entire first half, holding the Mesa offense to just three total yards and star running back Kris Jackson to negative yardage.
Led by a stout defensive line, numerous sacks on quarterback Nate Hanna led to multiple punts by Mesa, one of which was blocked and ended up in the hands of defensive lineman Alexander Randle, who took it 22 yards for the score.
“The ball was just there,” Randle said. “I snagged it and knew I had to get it into the end zone for my team. I couldn’t have done it without the rest of them though.”
As they have all season, the Jackrabbits never stopped fighting, scoring three times in the second half, one of which on a Jackson 84-yard touchdown run.
Jackson (19 carries, 140 yards) kept his streak of 100 yards of rushing per game alive, now at nine.
“Kris is our sparkplug,” coach Kap Sikahema said. “He is a great guy to have for us to rally around. We are going to miss him when the season is over, that is for sure.”
Even with the lopsided outcome, Sikahema remains pleased with the fight in his team every week.
“These kids have to learn how to fight in the beginning and not in the end,” he said. “I’m proud of my kids. These kids are ready to fight for everything they stand for, for that purple and gold.
“Dobson will be fighting for pride as well and I think it will be a nice little battle next week.”
Sikahema and the Jackrabbits will look to build off the momentum of the second half in next week’s matchup with Dobson (3-5, 0-3), while Red Mountain battles Skyline (5-3, 3-0) in a rematch from last year’s first round of the playoffs, in which Red Mountain pulled off the upset.
“We will be ready for them,” Peterson said of Skyline. “We just need to be careful and not get a big head. We will try to keep our kids humble and working hard.”
– Zach Alvira is a freelancer writer for MyNewsMesa.com.
Red Mountain 55, Mesa 21
Red Mountain 14 28 6 7 – 55
Mesa 0 0 7 14 – 21
RM – Lawson 23 run (Huffman kick), 9:24
RM – Reece-Peeplez fumble recovery (Huffman kick), :00
RM – Lawson 55 pass to Wilbon (Huffman kick), 8:46
RM – Randle 22 fumble recovery (Huffman kick), 5:32
RM – Mcelroy 35 run (Huffman kick), 3:47
RM – Griner 1 run (Huffman kick), :26
MHS – Hanna 62 run (#29 kick), 5:03
RM – Strehl 1 run (Huffman kick), 1:42
MHS – Jackson 84 run (#29) kick, 9:26
MHS – Mox 55 pass to Taylor (#29 kick), 6:08
RM – Strehl 2 run (Huffman kick), 2:01
First downs 15 8
Rush-yards 36-199 26-184
Comp-Att-Int 12-17-0 7-17-0
Pass yards 153 101
Total yards 352 285
Fumbles/lost 1/0 1/0
Penalties 7-59 9-75
RM – Lawson 4-36, Griner 4-10, Mcelroy 3-36, Lujan 5-18, Wilbon 1-8, Strehl 7-21, Hernandez 11-68, Fauble 1-2; MHS – Jackson 19-140, Hanna 7-44
RM – Griner 8-11-74-0, Lawson 2-2-63-0, Strehl 2-2-16-0; MHS – Hanna 5-10-46-0, Mox 1-1-55-0, Roebuck 1-6-10-0
RM – Lawson 1-18, Wilbon 3-71, Daniels 1-5, Reece-peeplez 2-9, Sanchez 2-13, Wheat 1-8, Fitch 1-17, Howey 1-(-)1; MHS – Taylor 3-77, Mcclendon 1-16, Mox, 3-18