Gilbert Highland desperately needed a victory Thursday night, and it got one.
Feeding off the momentum of five takeaways, Highland was able to take down Mesa Desert Ridge 36-22 in a 5A Division I nonregion shootout at Highland High School.
The Hawks employed a balanced rushing attack, which produced 235 yards and kept Desert Ridge (2-2) off balance for most of the final three quarters. The backfield trio of sophomore Parker Rasmussen, Christian Ives and Cameron Clemente provided most of the offensive firepower for the Hawks.
The win also gives Highland (1-2) new life after a pair of tough losses to start the season.
"The difference tonight is that we came to play," Highland coach Pete Wahlheim said afterward.
"I'm proud of the effort our kids put into this game because it would have been very easy for them to be down on themselves after the first two games."
Desert Ridge appeared to be in control early while taking advantage of its no-huddle, spread offense. Ryan Hathcock scored from 6 yards on the first drive of the game, but the turnovers would prove too costly for Desert Ridge.
Three of Highland's five touchdowns came directly after takeaways. Safety Carter Bailey was responsible for two interceptions and one fumble recovery for the Hawks, who took a 15-7 lead into the halftime break.
Desert Ridge tied the game early in the third quarter. Wideout Jordan Becerra took a quick screen pass from Kevin Pantastico before scampering 72 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion tied the score.
But Rasmussen was able to keep the Highland offense clicking with a 60-yard run on the Hawks' next possession. The Hawks took the lead for good in the fourth quarter when Rasmussen connected with Colton Oliver on a 15-yard touchdown strike.
LIVE IN-GAME UPDATES
7-0 Desert Ridge after Ryan Hathcock scores on six-yard touchdown run.
Highland takes an 8-7 lead on a 20-yard run by Cameron Clemente. Eric San Diego runs it in for 2-point conversion.
Highland's up 15-7 with 1:42 left in the first half after Clemente runs for a 2-yard touchdown.
29-22 Highland with three minutes left in the game. Colton Oliver had a 15-yard touchdown reception that gave Highland lead.
Highland's Carter Bailey intercepts pass and then Clemente scores on a 22-yard run. 36-22 Highland. 2:07 left
Desert Ridge (2-1) vs. Highland (0-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Address: 4301 E. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert
Key matchup: Rushing the ball or throwing it? Desert Ridge has done both effectively enough to be 3-0. One gets the feeling even though the run has been the MO last two weeks, the pass can be featured just as easily if the Jags choose it. Highland has allowed 499 yards rushing in two games.
Key stat: Highland has not scored in the first half of a game this season.
The intrigue: Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock felt the Jaguars could be anywhere from 2-8 this year to 8-2. Didn’t know what to expect. With a win they won’t be going 2-8. With a loss, Highland is perilously close to saying goodbye to postseason.