It’s been 18 years since the Red Mountain football program last played for a conference championship.
But on Friday night, that streak officially came to an end. Playing on wet field conditions at Westwood High School in Mesa, the top-ranked Mountain Lions used their ground game to defeat No. 4 Queen Creek 21-9 in the 6A semifinals.
“I’m so proud of my kids and my coaching staff,” Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson said. “They all do it and I stay out of their way. I’m just do happy for them, for our school and our community.”
Three consecutive days of rain in the Valley left the natural grass playing surface at Westwood slick as several players had trouble keeping their footing throughout the contest.
Red Mountain prepared accordingly throughout the week, as it continued to practice outside in the rain on grass practice fields at the school.
But the wet surface wasn’t the only adversity the Mountain Lions faced heading into their semifinal matchup against the Bulldogs. Red Mountain’s top rusher, Deonce Elliott, was sidelined with a lower leg injury he suffered last week against Desert Ridge. That left Ty McElroy, who had shared touches with Elliott throughout the season, to lead the backfield against a stout Queen Creek defense.
“The coaches told me all week I would have to step up and I knew that with Deonce going down,” McElroy said. “I just want to thank God and my coaches for preparing me for this moment right here.”
McElroy showed patience every time he touched the ball, waiting for Red Mountain’s offensive line to open up running lanes. While they came in spurts, McElroy found room to run on several occasions to extend Red Mountain’s drive.
The senior finished with 177 yards on the ground and a touchdown on 25 attempts. His lone score came in the second quarter to extend Red Mountain’s lead to 14 points.
“Ty was patient, waited for the crease and then his it with explosiveness,” Peterson said. “I told him all game it would be 2 yards, it would be 4 yards, it would be 14 yards. I told him all game to just keep grinding.”
Red Mountain senior quarterback Hyrum Boren, who had played lights out for the Mountain Lions this season, started off strong against Queen Creek in the first quarter.
He led the Mountain Lions down the field on their 75-yard opening drive, which he capped off with a 5-yard pass to senior wideout Jared Wilson.
From there, however, the Mountain Lions struggled through the air.
Boren threw three interceptions, one of which was tipped into the hands of Queen Creek junior linebacker Trey Reynolds. He had thrown just two interceptions coming into the contest, both of which came against Desert Ridge in the regular-season opener. Boren finished 7-of-13 for 55 yards and a touchdown.
But even as he struggled at times through the air, Boren got it done on the ground. The senior rushed 17 times for 90 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter that ended up sealing Red Mountain’s victory.
“Credit to the offense, they found a way to win tonight on this wet, slippery field,” Peterson said. “We did what we had to do.”
The Mountain Lions defense knew they faced a tough task heading into Friday night’s contest against a Queen Creek offense with playmakers all over the field. They limited sophomore quarterback Devin Brown in the first half through the air as well as senior running back Jace Bond on the ground.
Queen Creek was held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season, and the Bulldogs didn’t score their first points until late in the first quarter thanks to a 1-yard run by Reynolds.
Queen Creek’s two other points came in the form of a safety late in the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to establish the line of scrimmage and diminish their run game,” Red Mountain sophomore linebacker Parker McClure said. “We shut that out pretty early, but we knew they would come back to it. We also knew we had to stay disciplined in the back.
“We did a pretty good job at that.”
This year marked Red Mountain’s third consecutive trip to the playoffs under Peterson, who took over the program in 2017. It was the Mountain Lions’ third trip to the semifinals in four years dating back to former coach Ron Wisniewski’s final season.
In 2016, Red Mountain nearly beat Mountain Pointe. In 2017, the Mountain Lions ran into a dominant Chandler team. Last year, they fell to Pinnacle in the quarterfinals.
This year, however, Red Mountain will play for a 6A championship. The Mountain Lions will face off against No. 7 Liberty, who beat No. 6 Desert Vista in the other 6A semifinal game. The two will square off on Friday, Dec. 6 from Sun Devil Stadium at 7 p.m.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” McElroy said. “But the one thing I know is every day since the summer this team has worked toward this. The only thing on our mind was a ring.
“We are still chasing it but we’ve got one more game. It’s right there.”
RM – 7 7 0 7 – 21
QC – 0 0 7 2 – 9
RM – Boren 5 pass to Wilson (Gardner kick), 6:21
RM – McElroy 1 run (Gardner kick), 6:51
QC – Brown 1 run (Kaupe kick), 3:36
RM – Boren 11 run (Gardner kick), 7:36
QC – Safety, 3:35