There was a playoff feel Friday night at Toro Stadium, and it's only October.
The 5A East Valley Region showdown between Mesa Mountain View and Mesa Red Mountain whet the appetite for November, December and postseason play in frenzied fashion as the fourth-ranked Toros erased a 14-0 deficit in the final 13 1/2 minutes and edged the Mountain Lions, 21-14.
An 11-yard touchdown run by Mountain View quarterback Riley Nielsen with 40 seconds left in the final period capped the comeback. The Toros (7-1, 3-0 East Valley) scored on their final three possessions to steal what had the makings of celebratory evening for the Mountain Lions (5-3, 2-1).
The game offered everything for the fan. A defensive struggle in the first half as the teams played to scoreless tie. Neither penetrated the other's 30 before intermission. The second half saw all the scoring accomplished in the final 17 minutes.
"They're a good football team with a lot of good athletes,’’ Mountain View coach Tom Joseph said. “We struggled at times, but we got it done with a team effort.”
Mountain View found itself trailing 14-0 with 1:38 left in the third quarter after Red Mountain capitalized on a short field and the second interception of the game off Riley Nielsen.
Those possessions began at the Mountain View 44 and 38. Both times workhorse running back Jarison Johnson ripped off large gains to set up short TD runs, one by quarterback David Perkins, the other from wingback Alex Schultz. Johnson finished with 142 yards on 20 carries to lead the Mountain Lions offense.
Riley Nielsen, who accounted for 327 yards of offense rushing and passing, was glad to get a shot at redemption after his last errant pass of the night.
"I was frustrated after the second interception," Riley Nielsen said. "I just had to let it go, and we had to battle back."
The play that Red Mountain coach Jim Jones thought stung his team the most came just more than a minute after his teams' final touchdown.
After a holding penalty put the Toros in a second-and-20 situation, Riley Nielsen fired a pass over the middle to Jonathan Parmelee for about 30 yards. Parmelee slipped a tackle and then outraced the rest of the secondary to complete an 80-yard TD that pulled the Toros within 14-7.
"They caught us in a bad coverage for that play," Jones said. "That one really hurt. If we could have held them on that possession and got the ball back and run some time off we'd have been in pretty good shape. They scored too quickly on us."
Red Mountain moved into Mountain View territory on the ensuing possession, but the Toros’ Micah Yetter made a leaping interception at his 16 to end the threat.
Eight plays later, Riley and Ridge Nielsen ate up 74 of 84 yards on an eight-play TD march. Ridge Nielsen stretched over the goal line to complete a 7-yard run that tied the game with 6:02 remaining.
"That (Tribune) story today, what was it, ‘Men Among Boys?’ ” Jones said. "Well, 31 (Ridge Nielsen) and 13 (Riley Nielsen) are a couple of those.”
An interception of a desperation pass in the end zone by Mountain View's Aaron Rhodes closed the contest.