Aaron Eiseler was 14 yards and nine seconds away from wearing a newly appointed label as Red Mountain's starting quarterback the way precious few ever have.
After splitting time with Clint Cogswell in each game this season, Lions coach Ron Wisniewski went with Eiseler as the permanent starter this week, and he swiftly drove the Lions down the field in the final minute against No. 2-ranked Chandler on Friday.
But perfection was required to go 57 yards in 40 seconds with no timeouts, and after getting 85 percent of the way toward a buzzer-beating victory, Richard Winston spoiled the thrills with a sack that ran the clock out as Chandler held on for a 28-22 victory in a 5A Division I Fiesta Region thriller.
The Lions (5-2, 1-2 Fiesta Region) showed themselves to be able to hang with the elite, but the loss could sting with 5A-II powerhouse Peoria Centennial and Hamilton lined up for the next two weeks.
"There are no moral victories," Wisniewski said when it was mentioned the Wolves (and msot of the Fiesta Region dissected Red Mountain last year. "At the same time, when you looked at how (Red Mountain) stacked up against the elite in the past, we feel like we've closed the gap and can compete with any team in this region."
But Chandler held on despite playing without its top three running backs, top offensive lineman and with quarterback Brett Hundley on one leg for the second half.
Hundley sprained his ankle late in the first quarter and played with a noticeable limp the rest of the way. It appeared to hamper his running ability, but despite some expected soreness this week, the Wolves don't anticipate Hundley missing any games.
He still scored two rushing touchdowns and threw for 207 yards.
"Even on one leg he's pretty good," Chandler coach Jim Ewan said.
A close game the entire way, Hundley's second touchdown run gave the Wolves a 28-19 lead late in the third quarter, but Red Mountain forced a couple punts.
In between, the Lions drove the field and managed a 24-yard field goal by Sheldon Carr. Chandler (6-1, 2-1) tried to run the clock out in the final three minutes, but had little success. The Lions forced a punt and took possession with 40 seconds left and no timeouts.
Playing without starting running back Xavier Parsons, who was lost for the season with a knee injury last week, Eiseler threw five consecutive completions, but with nine seconds left Eiseler tried to scramble and Winston (defensive end) dragged him down and put the night to rest.
"I think we've closed the gap somewhat on these elite teams but we're not there yet," Wisniewski said. "We've got to find a way to make one more play."
Eiseler was 18 of 28 for 275 passing, two touchdowns and an interception. Lloyd Mills claimed Eiseler's interception and returned it 11 yards for a Chandler touchdown in the first quarter.
In addition to Mills' interception, the 5-foot-9 junior caught six passes for 139 yards, including a 77-yard catch-and-run to set up the Wolves final score.
Six different receivers caught passes for Red Mountain, led by E.J. Cordova (7 catches, 102 yards). Coleton Thornton's 67-yard reception accounted for the third Lions touchdown.
"If we played them again, it absolutely could have gone the other way," Ewan said. "They're getting better each week and they're going to bump off some people in the playoffs."