West Valley Preps
The bigger hole Mountain Ridge dug itself Friday night against Tempe Corona del Sol, the more effort and creativity the Mountain Lions used to find a way out of it.
So by the end of the night it was not a surprise that the Mountain Lions shrugged off a game-tying Aztecs touchdown with 22 seconds left. On the final play of regulation, junior Cole Mitchell took a pitch and heaved a halfback option pitch 27 yards to senior receiver Kyler Stancato at the Corona 33.
The clock showed all zeroes but a face mask penalty on the pass moved the ball to the Aztecs' 18 and gave Mountain Ridge an untimed down. Junior kicker Blake Comstock drilled his third field goal of the quarter, a 36-yarder, to cement a 16-13 win and a 2-0 start for a Mountain Ridge program that entered this season on an 16-game losing streak.
"Those two field goals gave me a lot of confidence. I was really proud of how I was performing and I felt really confident going into that last kick," Comstock said. "I stayed relaxed. It was a great feeling once I got it and I had a lot of support from my teammates."
The kicker proved the difference in a dramatic fourth quarter that featured more points, big plays and momentum switches in the first three combined. These downtrodden 6A programs came into the season with a combined overall record of 12-48 the last three seasons.
And following surprise victories in their openers last week, both teams were desperate to continue their momentum.
Sophomore running back Anyale Velazquez punished the home team with 19 carries for 134 yards. But the Mountain Ridge defense stopped him on fourth and one on its 28 late in the third quarter to maintain a 7-6 advantage.
In the first half the Mountain Lions forced two red zone turnovers to cling to the one-point lead. The defense recovered a fumble in the end zone and senior linebacker Tommy Ellis intercepted junior quarterback Quade Swearingen just in bounds at the Mountain Ridge 8.
"All of them were huge," Mountain Ridge coach Doug Madoski said. "(Defensive coordinator) Ben Kullos does a great job of preparing his guys and looking at film. And these guys are going to fight regardless of where they are on the field."
Senior quarterback Keegan Stancato had the Mountain Lions in the red zone by the end of the third quarter, after connecting with his brother Kyler on a 17-yard pass.
Earlier on that drive, Stancato again showed his ability to break free of the rush and convert a long third down, scrambling for 26 on a third and 17 situation. In the first quarter, he escaped the pocked and galloped for 30 on third and 28.
"It was amazing. As a lineman you can hit the first guy and just give up. But our linemen want to do something good. They are tired of losing. They got to the second level and I found something and made it happen. If we needed 35, we were going to pick up 36," Stancato said.
Mountain Ridge stalled at the 3 early in the fourth quarter and Comstock poked in a 21-yard field goal for a 10-6 lead.
Junior linebacker Deryk Leverage picked off a bobbled third down pass from Swearingen at the Aztecs' 30 and returned it to the 16. But Corona del Sol (1-1) held again, forcing Comstock to connect on a 27-yard boot for a 13-6 lead with 4:39 remaining.
The Aztecs converted a fourth down and 13 situation on their own 33 with a 13-yard pass from Swearingen to junior Bryce Douglass. After taking a sack, the quarterback scrambled for 10 to set up fourth and 1 from the Mountain Lions' 10.
A false start penalty made it fourth and six. Swearingen then calmly tossed a 15-yard scoring strike to junior Jack Farley on a seam route. The kick was good and overtime seemed likely tied at 13.
However, once again this group of Mountain Lions found a way to make a play when it was absolutely needed.
During the summer, Mitchell competed with Stancato for the quarterback role. But Madoski also knew the junior could be his wild card, lining up in the slot or at halfback and attacking on multiple fronts.
Including the occasional halfback pass.
"Any time you can put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time, it certainly doesn't hurt. We felt like obviously we had to make a play and had only one shot at it. We've been preaching all year long since camp that we need to fight until the end. So we were going to take a swing and see what happens," Madoski said.
Corona marched down the field on the opening possession, with Velazquez chewing up turf and setting up the play action. Swearingen tossed an easy 33-yard touchdown to senior Eric Blackwell.
The 2018 Mountain Lions may have fallen apart at giving up a touchdown in less than three minutes. Particularly after penalties resulted in third and 28 on their opening drive.
The 2019 Mountain Lions got a 30-yard run from Stancato to keep the drive alive. Then senior Jay'von Thompson followed with an 18-yard burst and the Stancato brothers connected on a 23-yard pass.
That set up first and goal at the 5. Keegan Stancato executed the zone read with Thompson for a touchdown and Comstock's extra point gave the home team a 7-6 lead.
"I think the community is starting to feel like this year is a little different," Stancato said.
This north Glendale community and football program has also embraced its new coach. Madoski spent most of this century either as the Scottsdale Community College coach or assistant coach.
When the Maricopa County Community College District disbanded its football programs last fall, Madoski was determined to lead a new junior college program. He is, coaching the Maricopa Mustangs who also practice and play at Mountain Ridge.
While the demands of coaching two teams simultaneously can be overwhelming, Madoski said he is amazed by how involved the Mountain Lions community is. And he's enjoying his first high school coaching job.
"The support here has been amazing from the parents, fans and administration. It's been absolutely unbelievable from a support standpoint. I'd been in Maricopa since 2001 and I've never had support like this. That's not negative toward Maricopa, I've just never had a group of people that will do whatever it takes to be successful," Madoski said.