Those scrappy little Mesa High underdogs are all grown up.
The Jackrabbits kept alive an improbable season by shutting down No. 3 seed Phoenix Brophy in a 13-3 win in the 5A-I football quarterfinals on Friday night at Phoenix College.
Before the season began, few gave Mesa a chance in the newly formed Fiesta powerhouse region. And when the Jackrabbits kept several of the games close, they were applauded for never giving up.
But this? Even the most ardent Mesa supporter may have had a tough time envisioning a semifinals berth.
The No. 11 seed Jackrabbits move on to face No. 2 Phoenix Mountain Pointe in two weeks.
They got there by beating Mesa Red Mountain in the first round before the Broncos Friday night. Mesa lost to both squads in the regular season.
"It was good to get a second chance," Mesa's Kyler Fackrell said. "Get a little vengeance."
Brophy took a 3-0 lead when Alex Garoutte picked off a Dallin Parker pass and returned it to the Mesa 11-yard line. The Jackrabbits held, and Garoutte kicked a 24-yard field goal for the early lead.
Unbeknown at that point, Brophy would not get close to the end zone the rest of the contest.
Mesa answered back in the second quarter.
Parker scrambled around in the backfield before finding Fackrell, who had slipped behind three Brophy defensive backs, on a 46-yard touchdown pass.
The broken play had the wide receivers running for open areas and the defensive backs scrambling to keep up.
"There was another guy wide open, and I was actually pointing over to him," Fackrell said. "But he saw me and it was a great job by Dallin."
The score stayed that way through three quarters.
Brophy had a chance to cut the lead to one point late in the third quarter, but Garoutte missed a field goal.
Mesa running back Asure McMillan put the game away with an 8-yard run with 8:20 remaining.
Although it was just a two-possession game, the Mesa defense made sure Brophy would not get any closer.
"It's coaching, and it's the kids' willingness to be coached," Mesa coach Kelley Moore said of the defense's shutdown ability. "We just come to battle."
Brophy quarterback Chase Knox completed just one pass in the first half, and while he threw it better in the second half, Mesa's defense swarmed on the short passes.
The Broncos could only muster 40 yards on the ground and 171 total.
Mesa will be one of three Fiesta Region teams moving on to the semifinals, but the most improbable.
"We do character lessons every Friday, and today it was 'faith'," Moore said. "Our kids believed."
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Alex Garoutte nails a 24-yard field goal to put Brophy ahead 3-0 with 4:26 left in the first quarter.
Dallin Parker scrambles for an eternity, then finds Kyler Fackrell behind three Brophy defensive backs for a 46-yard touchdown to put Mesa ahead 7-3 with 1:44 left before halftime.
McMillan scores on an 8-yard run to make it Mesa 13, Brophy 3 with 8:20 remaining. The extra point is no good.
With just under a minute and a half to play, Brophy's 57-yard field goal attempt comes up short. Mesa takes over and will be able to run out the clock and finish off the upset of the third-seeded Broncos.
No. 11 Mesa vs. No. 3 Brophy
Time: 7 p.m.
Address: 1202 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix (Phoenix College)
Key matchup: Mesa’s defense got a healthy dose of Max Leonesio in the first game (130 yards, 2 TDs) but Chase Knox and the Broncos passing game will be the litmus test. Knox has flourished against non-Fiesta Region competition, but struggled against region foes. He doesn’t need to win the game by any means, but making enough throws to keep the Jackrabbits’ defense honest and not committing turnovers are pivotal for Brophy’s success against a solid Mesa ‘D.’
Stat Leaders: Mesa — Rushing: Devontae Kellybrew 98 rushes, 620 yards, 7 TDs; Jaymen Green 64-493, 6 TDs; Dallin Parker 33-209, 4 TDs. Passing: 70 of 116, 1,158 yards, 9 INT, 11 TDs. Receiving: Kyler Fackrell 23 catches, 502 yards, 4 TDs; Devontae Kellybrew 22-252, 3 TDs; Jaymen Green 15-330, 4 TDs. Brophy — Rushing: Max Leonesio 181 carries, 1,386 yards, 18 TDs; Kevin Molloy 66-262, 5 TDs. Passing: Chase Knox 129 of 234, 1,604 yards, 14 INT, 14 TDs. Receiving: Scott Robson 30 catches, 413 yards, 4 TDs; A.J. Steimel 25-262, 3 TDs; Danny Bishop 13-234, 0 TD.
Key stat: Jaymen Green had 45 yards rushing, 14 yards receiving, 11 tackles and an interception in the teams’ last meeting.
The intrigue: Both teams are mirror images of one another. They rely on running game and quarterbacks who make a few key throws but otherwise manage the game, and both defenses are solid. Brophy led 19-6 at halftime of their first meeting at Phoenix College, but Mesa came back with 12 fourth-quarter points before the Broncos put it away with a late TD. Expect another physical, defensive-oriented slugfest, and remember both teams have arguably the two best kickers in the state in Alex Garoutte (Brophy) and Tyler Ryan (Mesa).