After a second half fireworks display that featured a combined 45 total points, the Desert Ridge Jaguars were able to make a few more big plays down the stretch to pull away and secure a 41-24 victory over the Desert Vista Thunder on First Responder’s Night.
The Jaguar offense grappled to gain traction in a physical first half with the team’s starting quarterback Austin Kolb noticeably struggling. Desert Ridge head coach Jeremy Hathcock decided to bench the junior in the third quarter, a move that would prove to pay off as the Jaguar offense would light up the scoreboard upon Kolb’s return.
“I sat him for a little bit, to be honest with you, I think he had a heart-to-heart with himself,” Hathcock said of his quarterback. “We got on him, we challenged his manhood, and he responded.”
Hathcock also singled out Josiah Kidd, the team’s fourth-string running back, as one of the players of the night for the Jaguars. Kidd had an 18-yard touchdown burst midway through the third quarter to kick the Jaguar offense into high gear.
Kolb would return to the game after that, slinging the ball around the field with the confidence he lacked in the first half to the tune of three total touchdowns. His 28-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Keiyon Turner with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter pushed the game out of reach after a back-and-forth third quarter that featured several lead changes.
However, outside of the varsity football game, the main attraction of the night was perhaps the plethora of first responders attending the game. The festivities featured multiple fire engines, S.W.A.T vehicles, bomb squad gear, and a helicopter which landed on the field before the game. This year marked the fourth annual celebration of First Responder’s Night at Desert Ridge, an event organized by Mesa Police Officer John Fitzgerald.
“I always tell people ‘if you build it they will come’ and that’s what this event is,” Fitzgerald said. “We really wanted to make it something that people would have that good feeling about and be able to approach these guys.”
Fitzgerald, who is a former president of the booster club at Desert Ridge remains as connected with the program as he possibly can. The event holds a clear positive impact on the community, with ordinary citizens being able to interact with police officers and firefighters in ways they normally cannot.
“It’s a blessing to do this for our community. I can’t thank the first responders enough for what they do,” Hathcock said, adding, “in our society, they don’t get told that enough, we couldn’t live without those guys.”
Desert Ridge advances to a 3-4 record on the season while Desert Vista falls to 4-2. The Jaguars will take a bye week this week before traveling to face Queen Creek on October 18th.
Jack Johnson is a sports journalism student at Arizona State's Cronkite School of Journalism covering Desert Ridge High School athletics.