Tom Joseph did not want to stand idly by as the Corona del Sol football team's playoff chances went up in smoke.
So the first-year coach put his team's fortunes in a passing game that had completed just one throw in more than three and a half quarters of play, and it couldn't have worked out much better.
Quarterback Kyle Busk found Tevin Mayfield for a 35-yard gain on a 4th-and-5 from the Aztecs' 35-yard line with 5:30 remaining, setting up the winning score as Corona rallied to down Mesquite, 36-33, in Division I action on Friday at Corona.
"It was like a life or death situation," Corona defensive lineman Avery Moss said. "And we lived on it."
Dominic Mercurio punctuated the drive and his 215-yard, four-touchdown night with a score from seven yards out with three minutes remaining, and the defense stopped Mesquite near midfield on its final possession.
Corona del Sol entered the game 16th in the Division I power rankings, and the Wildcats were 17th. The loss likely eliminates Mesquite from playoff consideration, while the Aztecs should move up heading into the season finale with Hamilton next week.
Corona del Sol went 1-10 last year.
Joseph said he considered punting for ‘about two seconds' before going for it on the fourth down.
"That was a really hard call," Joseph said. "I thought about punting and then stopping them, and then all of a sudden I go, ‘They're going to run the ball, and run the ball, and run the ball, and we're going to get the ball with no time left.' So I said, ‘Let's go for it.' That's what's fun about football."
The game was nip and tuck throughout, as Mesquite's 27-19 lead on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Steven Bevan to Kody Kohl with 3.2 seconds remaining before halftime was the biggest margin.
Mercurio scored on a 44-yard run and converted the two-point conversion to tie the game early in the third. Mesquite went back up 33-27 on an Anthony Lopez 9-yard touchdown run, and then things took an interesting turn.
Corona del Sol drove down to the Mesquite goal-line late in the third quarter, but James Contes fumbled on the 2-yard line. On the next play, Bevan was sacked by Moss for a safety to pull the Aztecs within 33-29.
"When we gave up that fumble, everyone was kind of out of it," Moss said. "Once I got that sack, everyone was back into it. It was like, ‘Let's go.'"
Each team punted, setting up Busk's big completion to Mayfield.
Busk finished just 2-of-7 for 71 yards, but the other completion was a 36-yard touchdown to Mayfield midway through the second quarter.
Mayfield, a sophomore, said he wasn't sure if Joseph would go for it from the team's own territory, but was excited when he knew the ball would be coming his way.
"I had to catch that ball," he said. "That's all I was thinking."
Bevan had 16 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown, and he was 14-of-22 for 164 yards passing with a score. Lopez had 10 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns.