Blogs / Features
Don KetchumStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
Highland hangs on, stuns unbeaten Desert MountainOct 5, 2012
By Don Ketchum
Look who has crashed the Division I football party.
It’s the Hawks from Gilbert Highland.
The No. 14 seed knocked top-seeded host Scottsdale Desert Mountain from the unbeaten ranks with a nail-biting 34-32 victory on Friday night (Oct. 5).
Two weeks after a narrow 21-17 loss to a tough Chandler Basha team, Highland hung on in this one by recovering a pair of second-half fumbles. The first was near midfield and set up a touchdown and the second one was returned 30 yards for a score.
The big scoring play, by defensive lineman Nate Nelson, gave Highland (5-2) a 34-25 lead with 2:05 left in the game. Desert Mountain (6-1) came back to pull within 34-32 with 1:06 left on Adam Cooper’s third touchdown run in the game, this from 1 yard out, but the Wolves could not gain possession of the onside kick.
Highland will get another test next week when it visits Mesa Mountain View, but Hawks coach Pete Walheim didn’t want to think about that. He wanted to enjoy this one for at least a few minutes.
Walheim said he lost four key players to injury, including running back Ray Barry, who was taken to a medical facility by paramedics, but the coach didn’t think it was too serious.
“We make things harder for ourselves than they need to be,’’ he said. “When the starters go down, your depth gets tested. It’s “Next man up.’ We did a good job and I feel good about that.’’
He also had to feel good about a goal-line stand in the closing seconds of the first half. Desert Mountain drove to the Highland 1, but couldn’t get the ball in. A touchdown by the Wolves would have given them a 24-14 lead at halftime, but they had to settle for a 17-14 edge.
“That was a huge play,’’ Walheim said. “You really don’t appreciate a play like that until the game is over.’’
And you’re the team in front at the end.
Another key for Highland was the running of Ryan McCord. He rushed for 206 yards on 22 carries, with three TDs. It was a nice return for McCord, who had missed nearly three weeks with a shoulder injury.
Walheim and his assistants knew that Desert Mountain would try to spread the field and get the ball to 6-foot-6 junior Mark Andrews, who might be the state’s best receiver.
He showed why with 14 catches for 220 yards and a TD, including 10 for 130 in the first half. In the second half, he didn’t see the ball come his way until the fourth quarter.
“We bent a lot but didn’t break,’’ Walheim said. “Desert Mountain is a good team and No. 81 (Andrews) creates problems. But I like our kids, too.’’
Desert Mountain coach Tony Tabor had seen some of the little things help his team in wins over Scottsdale Chaparral and Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep earlier in the season, but this time, they didn’t go in the Wolves’ favor.
“When you get to the 1-inch line and can’t get the ball in (at the end of the first half) . . . stuff like that can come back to bite you,’’ Tabor said.
Supporters of Tabor’s team thought that quarterback Kyle Allen was throwing the ball when he lost it and Nelson returned it for what proved to be the decisive TD. Allen completed 28 of 26 passes for 382 yards.
“I think it was a good call (by the officials). I’d like to say it wasn’t, but it was,’’ Tabor said.
“You try to tell your kids about what to expect, to take care of the little things. Maybe they will listen a little better now. You live and learn.’’