A counter play -- executed not exactly as it was drawn up -- provided Mesquite a touchdown in the second period and proved to be the difference in a 10-3 victory over Gilbert in a matchup of sister schools.
Mesquite's Juan Giraldo burst 19 yards up the middle for the game's lone TD midway through the second quarter. As the play began, Mesquite quarterback Payton Haslam took the shotgun snap and bobbled it, recovered in time to hand it to Giraldo as they nearly collided in the backfield. Once Giraldo secured the ball, he found a gaping hole in the center of the defense and scored easily on what would be Mesquite's longest rushing play of the game.
"It was a counter play," Mesquite coach Jim Jones said, returning to the head coaching arena after a three-year absence following 20 seasons and two state titles at Red Mountain. "The timing was off a little bit. We'll have to work on that play some more."
Gilbert coach Tim Rutt, making his head coaching debut after years as an assistant in the East Valley, said a bad defensive call up front had the Tigers' line out of position on the scoring play.
"We ended up too wide and they were able to kick us out," Rutt said.
Giraldo's run and Jarrod James extra point made it 7-0 with 7:16 left before the half. Neither team was able to put up much offense all night, and particularly the first half. Gilbert closed to within 7-3, getting a field goal from one of its only veteran players from 2012 -- kicker Austin Carver. Carver knocked home a 40-yard attempt with 52 seconds left before intermission. The key play on the scoring drive was a 25-yard pass from senior quarterback Tyler Stevenson to wide out Alex Gerstner.
Gilbert totaled 102 yards of offense in the first half and Mesquite ground out 95. Gilbert threatened several times in the second half moving near or across midfield several times and winning the field-position battle. Mesquite got one big play in the second half -- a 56-yard hook-up from quarterback Payton Haslam to receiver Nolan Tondreau. That earned the Wildcats a 38-yard field goal from James to push the advantage to 10-3 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter saw Mesquite battle back some in the trenches. A sack by Jake Gaustad of Stevenson turned back a Gilbert drive that reached Mesquite's 30. The team's trade punts to open the fourth period, but Gilbert's Brycen Palmer's interception at the goalline and 40-yard return set Gilbert up at the Mesquite 46 with 6:33 to play.
Facing a fourth-and-10 at that spot, Gilbert coach Tim Rutt inserted sophomore quarterback Dane Stankiewicz to see if he could make a play. Stankiewicz fired a 25-yard completion to Gerstner and the Tigers were within 20 yards of tying the game.
Mesquite, however, continued to dial up pressure with frequent blitzes and forced another fourth down (8 yards needed). Stankiewicz this time threw over the middle and was intercepted by Mesquite corner Josh Davis.
"Our defense did a great job," Jones said. "They saved us, and kept us in the game."
The Davis pick secured the victory for Mesquite, which won two games in 2012. The Wildcats were able to avenge a 38-35 shootout from the year before. Gilbert, which managed three wins in 2012, came away feeling good about its effort despite the loss.
"We played hard, got after it," Rutt said. "We just didn't finish. I thought we wore them out in the third quarter. They battled back in the the last quarter. Our defense I thought played incredibly well except for one pass. These kids are doing great things to change the attitude around campus."