Mesquite's Paul Perry didn't take kindly to what first seemed like a diminished role back in August. The Wildcats as a whole sure have.
Perry a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, was anxious to play linebacker and running back for Mesquite for a second straight year in his final year of high school ball. However, orders from the top said defense was pretty much a thing of the past. He was penciled in for duty in the offensive backfield..
"I didn't like it at first," Perry said. "I love playing defense. I figured whatever helped the team the most, I'm OK with it Mesquite has more wins this year than any in its history."
Mesquite has won more. A lot more moving partly attributed to a move down from Division I to Division II. The second-seeded Wildcats sport an 11-1 record, have won 10 games in a row and engage with No. 3 Chaparral in one of the D-II semifinal games. Mesquite and Chaparral square off Friday (Nov. 22) at 7 p.m. at Gilbert High for the right to play the Deer Valley-Salpointe winner in the title game on Friday (Nov. 29) in Tucson.
One key for Mesquite's success can be traced to Perry's prowess as a workhorse back behind a workhorse line. The Wildcats like to score as much as any team, but moving the chains consistently is a winning strategy as well.
There haven't been a lot of long runs for the Wildcats. Perry has rushed 281 times for 1,557 yards and 12 TDs -- an average of 26 carries per game. His 5.5-yard average isn't overwhelming for high school (it would be envied in the NFL). Still, it often allows Mesquite to control the ball and lull the opposition to sleep for a air strikes. Mesquite is within 100 yards of a 50-50 split in yardage run vs. pass for the season.
"He makes a difference," Mesquite coach Jim Jones said of Perry. "He has a 40 time of about 4.6 so he has decent speed. He runs hard and gets first downs. He practices like he plays. Gets after it all the time. We felt he could be the kind of back he's been."
Perry has never carried the load he's had this year. That load gradually increased as he missed the first game entirely with a minor knee injury and played with a brace for a couple games, after.
"From the first day coach told me to hit the hole hard and trust our blockers," Perry said. "That's what I've done. Our line has done a phenomenal job all season."
Perry said Mesquite turned the disadvantage of being a junior-dominated team last year playing many of the top teams in Division I to being senior-dominated this year against a D-II slate.
"The game experience we had last year really prepared us for this year," Perry said. "We've been a confident team pretty much from the beginning."
It's likely no coincidence Mesquite struggled when Perry wasn't playing or wasn't at 100 percent early. He missed the first game (Mesquite beat Gilbert that night in the rain, 10-3). The following week he got in some some work (12 carries for 41 yards) in a 32-21 loss to Williams Field.
Since those contests, Perry has been healthy. He's produced 100 yards or more in nine of the 10 games, barely falling short vs. Poston Butte (93 yards). Carried 30 tiimes or more in three games. Safe to say he's a staple in the Wildcats' success.
"Our coaches have had faith in us since Day 1," Perry said. "The first day coach said our goal is a state championship. I didn't expect to hear that when we'd won five games the two years before. It's been a good year."