Mesa Desert Ridge outlasted host Gilbert Perry 31-28 Friday in a 5A East Valley matchup that pitted two 5-4 teams that were on the bubble in power points after the cheating scandal at Laveen Cesar Chavez this week. Both teams fought to the end, and the game wasn’t decided until the very last play.
Star quarterback Kevin Pantastico finished 19-of-29 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Jaguars (6-4, 4-2), but it was his poise in crunch time that stood out. Pantastico was 5-of-6 for just 60 yards and an interception in the first half as the high-octane Jaguars offense managed only 87 yards of total offense and trailed the Pumas 14-7. However, Pantastico came out strong in the second half. He rolled to his right and hooked up with Zack Finch for a 75-yard catch-and-run to even the score at 14.
The 319 passing yards was Pantastico’s lowest total of the season.
After the Jaguars took a 21-14 lead later in the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Buck Deleon, the Pumas (5-5, 2-4) showed their grit as they tied the game on the next drive.
Tauren Darnell, who ran for 102 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns on the night, scored from 1-yard out on fourth down to even the score. The Pumas were a model of efficiency on fourth down, converting 7 of 8. The only failure occurred when Perry quarterback Chase Richardson slipped and fell to his knee with 1:10 to play to all but seal the victory for the Jaguars.
Richardson set a school record by completing his first eight passes. Richardson finished the night 13-for-19 for 156 yards and a perfect fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Cody Weisenberger. Richardson’s favorite target on the night, Drake Davis, caught seven balls for 83 yards, including a 20-yard reception on a crucial fourth-and-16 to set up Richardson’s scoring pass to Weisenberger.
“He’s a great leader,” Perry coach Preston Jones said about Richardson. “Without him, we wouldn’t have even been close tonight.”
Trailing 31-28 with 1:39 left on the clock and needing to make a play to get the ball back, the Pumas’ Mo Latu made an incredible play to tip a pass and intercept it himself to give Perry one last chance before Richardson slipped on fourth down. Desert Ridge’s Dak Gift recovered three fumbles on the night for the Jaguars.
The Tribune is projecting that both Desert Ridge and Perry will make the playoffs.
“We are going to watch it in the morning and see if we get in,” Jones said. “As of yesterday, we were in basically no matter what. … All this stuff with these cheaters getting caught, it’s great. People get upset, but I’m ready for them to start catching more (cheaters). The sooner the AIA starts doing that, the sooner this is going to be a level playing field.”
LIVE IN-GAME UPDATES
Perry 7, Desert Ridge 0: Tauren Darnell scored on a 2-yard run on fourth down to give the Pumas the lead with 8:40 left in the second quarter.
After another Perry touchdown, Desert Ridge drives the field and caps it off with a 3-yard TD run from QB Kevin Pantastico to cut the Pumas' lead to 14-7 late in the first half.
Desert Ridge ties the score at 14 early in the third on a 75-yard bomb from QB Kevin Pantastico to Zack Finch.
After recovering a loose ball on the opening kickoff of the second half, Desert Ridge takes the lead on a Buck DeLeon 5-yard touchdown run.. It's 21-14 Jaguars with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
Perry ties it at 21-21 late in in the third quarter on its third fourth-down TD of the night, this one a 1-yarder from Tauren Darnell., his second of the game.
Desert Ridge comes right back with an 11-play, 65-yard drive capped off by Zack Finch's second TD catch of the game, a 15-yarder from Kevin Pantastico. The Jaguars lead 28-21 at the end of the third quarter.
After a Desert Ridge field goal, Perry scores with 2:22 left in the game on a 21-yard pass from Chase Richardson to Cody Weisenberger. It's Desert Ridge 31, Perry 28.
It's a final: Desert Ridge holds on for a dramatic 31-28 victory to all but clinch a playoff berth, while Perry must sit and wait for power points to be released.
Desert Ridge (5-4, 3-2) vs. Perry (5-4, 2-3)
Time: 7 p.m.
Address: 1913 E. Queen Creek Road, Gilbert
Key matchup: Perry must try to keep the ball away from Desert Ridge’s offense. The Pumas haven’t come close to beating solid or elite playoff teams in their first season of non-independent play.
Key stat: Perry has been outscored 128-10 by Chaparral, Marcos de Niza and Mountain Pointe -- schools who have contributed mightily to the Pumas opponent victory total (27).
The intrigue: Desert Ridge can move up a couple spots in the power rankings with a win, perhaps enough to host a first-round playoff game. The Jaguars are currently 11th, but on the heels of #8 Maryvale, #9 Red Mountain and #10 Trevor Browne.