There were plenty of kicking-game mistakes or breakdowns to go around between Phoenix North and Mesa High Friday night. Ironically, the kicking game also decided the outcome.
North's Gustavo Virelas booted a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the visiting Mustangs a 27-24 win over Mesa in a wild finish to their 5A non-region contest.
‘‘I'm really proud of our kids,’’ North coach Stuart Goldstein said. ‘‘(Virelas) was the Metro Region soccer player of the year. He's a good kid and like a 3.7 (GPA) student.’’
Virelas' second field goal of the game kept North, the top-ranked team in 5A Division II, unbeaten at 5-0. Mesa fell to 3-2. Both the Jackrabbits’ losses have come at home by less than a touchdown with key mistakes at crunch time.
Mesa seemed doomed to go down in the final minute. They trailed 24-16 with one minute left and the Mustangs punting from inside their 20. Trying to milk the clock for a full 25 seconds before taking a delay-of-game penalty, the Mustangs seemed too caught up with the clock. A swarm of Mesa defenders converged and blocked the punt, setting up the Jackrabbits with a first down at the North 19 with 45 seconds to play.
Mesa had used all its timeouts on North's possession, but took just two plays to cut the margin to 24-22. Quarterback Adam Moreno flipped his second TD pass of the game to tight end Geoff Garner with 36 seconds to play. Moreno, who also ran for a TD, pulled Mesa even with nimble feet, toeing the sideline before making a nice throw to Daniel Fa for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Mesa then kicked off and for the third time in the game the attempt sailed out of bounds. That gave North the ball at its own 35 with 36 seconds and a couple timeouts.
North quarterback Erik Archuleta, who completed 28-of-37 passes for 247 yards, scrambled for 25 yards on one play and completed his final pass of the night to give Virelas a shot at the game winner. The left-footer didn't miss, drilling the 48-yard attempt with room to spare.
Mesa coach Dennis Parker didn't say anything after the game, but the somber look on his face told the story.
The Jackrabbits should have gone to halftime with a 10-3 lead, but a mishandled snap on a punt by Rudy Owens left Owens with no time to punt and he was swarmed under at his 15.
On the next play Archuleta, who also rushed for 81 yards, rolled right and weaved through tacklers for a 15-yard TD run that tied the game at intermission.
North continued that momentum in the second half. The Mustangs took the second half kickoff and marched 81 yards in seven plays capped by Archuleta's 29-yard TD pass to tight end Jeff Jones. North never trailed again.
Moreno completed 13-of-22 passes for 141 yards. Fa carried 16 times for 98 yards.