Mountain Ridge wanted to put the finishing touches on a turnaround season, but rival Sandra Day O’Connor played arguably its best game of the season Nov. 1 as the visiting Eagles upended the Mountain Lions, 34-27, in 6A Desert Valley action.
O’Connor (3-7 overall, 1-4 section) won its third straight against Mountain Ridge (5-5, 1-4) and did so with clutch defense and timely plays.
The loss hurt the Mountain Lions' seed in the state playoffs, but they were safely in the 6A tournament after going 0-10 last season. Saturday's bracket revealed Mountain Ridge as the #14 seed, travelling to #3 Gilbert Perry (6-4) on Nov. 8.
“You would like to get in with a win,” Mountain Ridge coach Doug Madoski said. “I think the growth of these kids has been remarkable. These kids have worked their tails off and certainly you hope they get an opportunity to keep playing and compete together one more time.”
The clearest sign of that growth, open division or not? This is the first playoff berth for the former north Glendale powerhouse since 2010. Tempe Corona del Sol edged O'Connor by five hundredths of a point for the 16th and final 6A playoff spot.
The Eagles opened up a 34-21 lead when Chase Hanson intercepted a pass, his second of the game, and returned it 62 yards to stretch O’Connor’s lead to 34-21 with 6:08 remaining.
“We are better football team than 3-7,” an emotional O’Connor coach Steve Casey said. “They hung in there together tonight. We knew it would be a good game and we didn’t think we would blow them out.”
Mountain Ridge didn’t fold being down two scores, as the Mountain Lions answered with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that was capped when Keegan Stancato found his twin brother Kyler in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3:33 left.
The Mountain Lions decided to roll the dice and it paid off when Kyler jumped on the onside kick. Mountain Ridge quickly moved the ball into the red zone as Jay’von Thompson broke an 18-yard run and the Stancato brothers connected for a 6-yard pass.
Momentum was cresting for Mountain Ridge when a pass from Keegan to Triston Silva fell incomplete but pass interference and a sideline penalty was called against O’Connor, setting up the Mountain Lions for a first-and-goal at the Eagles 5.
Mountain Ridge threw three straight passes that fell incomplete and was faced with a fourth down with 2:24 left. The Mountain Lions lined up threw a fade to Cole Mitchell but the pass was defended well and fell harmlessly to the ground.
“I thought there were two pass interferences (in that series),” Madoski said. “We just had to take a swing, but we came up short.”
The Eagles were able to get a first down when Alijah Galbreath rushed for eight yards to seal the victory. Galbreath dominated the fourth quarter, finishing with 61 yards on the ground including a 7-yard scoring scamper that gave O’Connor the lead 28-21 with 11:25 remaining.
“We were trying to pound the ball a little bit with Galbreath,” Casey said. “They weren’t stopping the run.”
O’Connor senior quarterback Dylan Simonton finished 13-of-24 for 238 yards including touchdown passes to Phoenix Payton (84 yards) and Daymian Stewart (24 yards) before halftime.
“All year long he has made some big plays when we needed it,” Casey said. “He really made some big throws in the first half.”
Mountain Ridge appeared to be headed for a dominating performance when the Mountain Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Keegan connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Kyler on a fourth down play from midfield on the game’s opening drive. The next Mountain Lions drive found paydirt when Keegan Stancato scampered in from a yard out.
Keegan closed the half with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Kyler, putting Mountain Ridge ahead 21-14. Keegan Stancato finished 20-of-37 for 292 yards but had two interceptions.
Casey mentioned that he would be losing his defensive coordinator of 20 years, Robert Latona, in 2020. Latona was recently married and will be moving to Kansas City with his new bride.