There was never any doubt in the mind of Mesquite’s players or head coach Scott Hare when the Wildcats lined up to stop Cactus’ two-point try in the 4A semifinals.
They were confident the defense would do its job.
“We aren’t panicking at the end of these games, so it allows us to just keep going,” Hare said. “We said don’t quit, play it all the way to the whistle, and that’s what they did. I mean, it came all the way down to the one-inch line.
“That’s the difference between going to state and going home.”
Mesquite stopped Cactus just short of the goal line. Celebration ensued.
The Wildcats, who hadn’t made the playoffs in two seasons, are moving on the play in the 4A championship. It’s the first championship appearance in program history.
“Since freshman year we’ve been working for this, and our dreams have come true," Mesquite senior wide receiver Jacob Walker said. "So we’re just going to work these next two weeks and we’re going to get after it.”
The Wildcats’ first championship appearance comes during Hare’s first season as head coach. When former coach Chad DeGrenier stepped down to lead the Mesa High football program, Hare, who previously coached Mesa, stepped down from his athletic director position to take over the football team.
In one-year, Hare helped lead the program from a 5-5 record in 2018 to a title-game appearance.
“It’s just great to trust the process,” Mesquite junior quarterback Ty Thompson said. “I’m just proud of my team, what we’ve been doing. We’ve worked since spring.
“We’ve put in so much work, coach Hare put in so many hours, I’m just proud of us.”
Thompson has led the Wildcats all season long, passing for 3,334 yards and 39 touchdowns. The junior has offers from several Division I programs and will surely receive more attention as he competes for a title this season. He’s also gotten it done on the ground this year, rushing for 506 yards and five more touchdowns.
Senior running back Chris Hintze has come along as of late, rushing for 745 yards and 6 touchdowns, several of which have come in the postseason.
Thompson has spread the ball around to seven different wideouts this season, five of which have 400 or more receiving yards. Senior Jordan Wollangk leads the team along with sophomore Andrew Morris and senior Jacob Walker, whose touchdown reception against Cactus late in the game helped the Wildcats get the lead and ultimately, the win
Mesquite’s defense has been vital to its success, making big stops throughout the regular and post season. They’ve faced high-powered offenses this season in Campo Verde, who made it to the 5A title game, as well as Saguaro, who will face Chandler for the Open Division championship.
One more test awaits the Wildcats in Desert Edge, led by sophomore quarterback Adryan Lara, who has thrown for a staggering 3,412 yards and 35 touchdowns this season.
“This is uncharted territory for Mesquite," Hare said. "They’ve never been to a state title, so there’s a lot of excitement around that.”
Sixth-ranked Mesquite will take on No. 4 Desert Edge on Friday, Dec. 6 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise for the 4A Conference title. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.