Mavericks overcome slow start to rally past Highlands
The Mesa State College football team overcame a slow start (7 points in the first half) and several mistakes (10 penalties and two turnovers) Saturday to rally past New Mexico Highlands 34-27 in a battle of winless teams to open the RMAC season at Stocker Stadium.
“There were a lot of mistakes, but we got away with a win,” Mesa State quarterback Phil Vigil said. “We battled through it. The offense showed what we can do in the second half, but we should’ve played a lot better.”
The Mavericks (1-2, 1-0 RMAC) fell behind by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, before scoring 24 unanswered points for their first victory of the season.
“Highlands has tons of talent,” Mesa State running back Bobby Coy said. “They are a great team. When they play together, they can be a tough team to beat.
“We came out flat. We didn’t play ball like we’re supposed to play. The offense played one good half of football and put up 27 points. Now we need to do it for four quarters.”
It was a disappointing loss for Highlands (0-3, 0-1 RMAC) under first-year coach Chad Roanhaus.
“I thought we played good enough to win,” he said. “This shows we have strong character to come out and play the way we did today. It will show even more next week after this tough loss.”
Vigil led the rally, completing 4 of 6 passes for 95 yards in the final quarter. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns for the game. Seven different receivers caught a pass for the Mavericks, led by
Griffin Chernoff, with five catches for 99 yards and one touchdown. Justin Murray had three catches for 73 yards.
“That’s what happened a few years ago; we didn’t fold,” Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno said. “It looked glum there for a bit, but it’s a good win for us.
“Phil did an awesome job. He played great. He leads this group.”
After the Cowboys (0-3, 0-1 RMAC) returned a Mesa fumble for a touchdown to take a 27-10 lead with 4:09 left in the third quarter, the Mavericks rallied behind a Chernoff kickoff return and offsetting personal foul penalties.
Coy, who rushed for 149 yards and one touchdown, picked up 31 yards before the Mavericks moved into scoring territory. Two plays later, Mesa State fullback Zach Belloni caught a
9-yard touchdown pass from Vigil to get within 10 points, 27-17, with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Mesa State’s defense forced Highlands to go three-and-out, then the Mavericks went 61 yards on six plays. Vigil capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to get within a field goal, 27-24, early in the fourth quarter.
Mesa senior defensive end Nic Pade sacked Highlands quarterback Narcisco Diaz for the second time to force another punt.
“I was going,” Pade said. “I let it loose. I was going after it and gave it my all.”
Mesa kicker Jared Keating nailed a 32-yard field goal on the Mavs’ next possession to tie the game with 8:27 left.
The Mavericks’ defense had a third consecutive stop to give the offense the ball with 5:56 left at Mesa’s 34.
A false start and a sack, though, put Mesa back at its own 25, but a Highlands personal foul (one of 16 penalties for 157 yards) gave the Mavericks a first down on their own 40.
Murray caught a 46-yard pass to put the Mavericks in scoring position.
“I got jammed up and beat my guy on a go, but got caught from behind,” Murray said. “I’m gonna get some crap for that one, but that got us going.”
Coy took it from there, scoring on a 3-yard run for a 34-27 lead with 2:36 left.
Mesa State defensive back Chad Simpson came up with an interception at the Highlands 38 on the Cowboys’ next possession, but instead of trying to return it, knelt down.
“I guess I should’ve ran it in (for a touchdown),” Simpson said. “I thought I was doing the right thing. We sealed the deal.”