Gilbert Mesquite coach Jim Jones and his players say that they’ve embraced their underdog status for most of this season.
Just one problem: Now 8-1 overall (3-0 Section VI) and sure to climb even higher than its No. 9 ranking entering this week, Mesquite can hardly be considered that much of a dark horse any longer. A 47-28 win at perennial Division II contender Tempe Marcos de Niza proved that even further Friday night.
“We’re in unchartered waters,” Jones said. “We’ve been the underdog all season. If we get in the playoffs, we’ll probably be the visiting team. We’re trying to use it to our advantage. (Mesquite is) starting to get more confident.”
Jones said the key to Mesquite’s win was trying to contain Marcos de Niza quarterback Joshua Eckley, who completed 23 of 33 pass attempts for 383 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Eckley also had 55 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on the ground, but the Mesquite defense, however, sacked him five times.
“We got to him a few times,” Jones said. “I think we got to him more than other teams have really gotten to him. He’s going to get his passing yardage and going to get some scores.”
Mesquite was ignited by defensive back Juan Giraldo.
No. 10 Marcos de Niza (6-3, 2-2) tied the game at 7 in the first quarter, but that score didn’t hold up for long as Giraldo returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to put Mesquite up 14-7.
Later, with just over a minute until halftime, Giraldo intercepted Eckley at midfield. The interception led to Mesquite quarterback Payton Haslam connecting with Jordan Robinson on a 14-yard touchdown pass to give Mesquite a 28-14 advantage at the break.
“He’s so fast,” Jones said of Giraldo. “He’s a great athlete.”
Mesquite running back Paul Perry had 25 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Haslam contributed 155 yards passing with three touchdowns — two to Nolan Tondreau.