Mesquite football players often credit the team’s success to the coaching staff. Head coach Scott Hare, however, drums it up to the work ethic of the players at every level.
No matter the root cause of the Wildcats ability to win games Friday night, it’s working. For the second time in as many years, Mesquite will compete for the 4A Conference championship, which it won last year in dramatic fashion over favored Desert Edge.
But make no mistakes about the 2020 season. Mesquite, led by five-star quarterback and Oregon commit Ty Thompson, has been the favorite all season to repeat as 4A champions. Now back in the title game, it’s no longer a game of preparation but execution.
“Once you taste success, you want more of it,” Hare said. “The guys last year did a good job showing what success feels like and this group has done a good job to be in position to have more of it.
“Getting rings is fun. That’s probably one of the most fun you can have.”
Mesquite’s trip to the finals was one met with little adversity. The Wildcats only loss this season came in a high-scoring affair to current 5A top seed Sunrise Mountain in Week 2. Mesquite entered the playoffs as the third-ranked team after Washington was forced to cancel its play-in game against the Wildcats, dropping them down from their previous ranking as No. 1.
The drop in ranking resulted in Mesquite having arguably the toughest draw in the quarterfinals, as it matched up with perennial 3A power Northwest Christian, who was moved up to 4A this season. Mesquite prevailed in a game that was closer than the scoreboard showed and moved on to face American Leadership Academy — Queen Creek — last year’s 3A champion — in the semifinals.
The Wildcats’ matchup with the Patriots came down to a potential game-tying field goal that ended up missing the uprights, securing Mesquite’s spot in the finals.
“I don’t think I was ever nervous,” Hare said of the field goal attempt by ALA. “I was more focused on getting my plays set for overtime. I just wanted to make sure we were ready for anything.”
Anywhere, any place at any time is a motto Hare lives by when it comes to coaching. He and his team refused to harp on the fact they dropped two spots in the rankings after not playing a game. At the end of the day, it made no difference.
Hare is confident in his players, and for good reason. Along with Thompson, junior athlete Andrew Morris is one of the top playmakers in the state on both sides of the ball. Lavontae Trotter and Riales Hopper provide speed at wideout along with senior Eric Lira, who transferred from Central High School before the season after the Phoenix Union High School District initially shut down fall sports.
Since his arrival, Lira has provided an added spark to an already high-powered offense. His athleticism is displayed all over the field and allows Hare to open up the playbook for Thompson.
“He’s dynamic,” Thompson said. “He can make plays along the sideline or in the middle of the field. He can make plays after he makes the catch, he’s just a dynamic player.”
Lira’s transfer to Mesquite was made easier by the welcoming nature of the program. Hare and his staff, along with the players, knew he would be able to make an immediate impact on the team.
Now at the end of the 2020 season, that couldn’t be clearer.
Despite some games missed due to injury, Lira still managed to haul in 32 passes for 757 yards and more than a dozen touchdowns. He is second on the team in receptions and first in yards. Lira and Morris have combined for over 1,400 of Thompson’s 2,831 yards through the air.
“It feels great knowing this is a good team and I can come in here and do my part to help make it to the state championship,” Lira said. “It was hard (to transfer), just because I was so attached to the coaches over there, but they wanted what was best for me.
“Playing in the championship means everything to me. Just to have a chance to go out with a bang and give it my all, I want to leave it all out on the field and hopefully win a ring.”
Mesquite’s matchup against No. 4 Cactus for the 4A title on Friday is a rematch of last year’s semifinals, in which Mesquite won after a goal-line stop as time expired. But the finale also signals the end of an era for Thompson, who is the highest recruit to ever come out of Mesquite and one of the highest in the state.
He hopes to cap off his high school career with back-to-back championships.
“Not many can say they can do that,” Thompson said. “There’s no other feeling than coming out on top in your very last high school game then going to a place like Oregon. It would mean the world.”