Remy Mastey is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Gilbert High School athletics.
Gilbert head coach Derek Zellner screamed to his players, “3 and 0! You got to believe it,” as the Tigers' unstoppable running game and scorching defense led them to an impressive victory over the Mesa Jackrabbits, 21-13.
Zellner had a very simple message to the team prior to the start of the game, saying, “We have told these guys that losing is contagious and winning is contagious. Which end would you rather be on?” Clearly, the Tigers chose wisely.
The Tigers started the first quarter with a bang, rushing the ball down Mesa’s throats on the first drive of the game. Cooper Zellner's opening dash of 30 yards and Carter Dickie’s 17- yard touchdown upstarted the offense putting Gilbert up 7-0.
Despite a powerful 34-yard rushing touchdown by Zellner to begin the second quarter, the story of the first half was the Tigers’ defense continuing their impressive play, holding the Jackrabbits to only three points in the first half. Gilbert led 14-3 after two quarters of play.
In games prior, the Tigers have elected to use both Ethan Greenberg and Danny Hesse at quarterback. This game was no different as Zellner felt after a strong first half from Greenberg, it would be best to switch to Hesse in the second half keeping both quarterbacks fresh and not overworking either of them.
The night wouldn’t end without yet another rushing touchdown from none other than Zellner reaching the end zone on a 9- yard score, putting the Tigers up 21-10 which was the icing on the cake.
The defense, which has been a bright spot over the three- game winning streak, stepped up in a big way facing a situation that they have not dealt with as a unit all season.
“The way we kept fighting, it was a different game plan because of what we faced,” said defensive coordinator Quenton Maag. “It was something we had not done a ton of this year. And we had to throw guys in with injuries and other things going on, that some guys that have not gotten a ton of playing time played a lot and played really really well today. The entire team is just incredible right now.”
This Tigers’ defense showed how high their potential really is as a collective unit and how deep they can go into their bench while dealing with injuries.
The win Friday night was no ordinary victory for the Tigers. This was the first time they were able to defeat the Jackrabbits since the 2011 season. The game in which they call “The Battle of Baseline,” where the Jackrabbits and Tigers square off every year, feels larger than just another game in October.
“Man, that one just means so much,” Gilbert senior wide receiver Evan Smith said. “After last year's game coming down to the wire and us not being able to pull it out to being in basically the same situation and being able to get that win shows how much we have grown as a team and as a program and I couldn’t be more proud of my team. This one is huge heading into the bye then starting region play after now we have some momentum to ride into that.”
The Tigers are looking like a force to be reckoned with, bouncing back in a huge way after a rough 0-2 start to the season winning each of their last three games by at least eight points or more.
It's not only the team's play that is impressive, the mentality of all the players has completely shifted ever since the start of the season.
“They have bought into the culture,” Maag said. “The big thing was culture when I came in and I told them if they believed, I would put them into position to win. They believed, they kept fighting even when things got tough and it has led to what we have seen out there.”
The Tigers look to continue their hot streak against the Horizon Huskies on Oct. 15 back at home.