Despite the wind and some moisture, a good sized crowd was on hand to watch this playoff match up between #16 Gilbert Highland being hosted by the #3 Mesa Westwood. Starting with the run, Westwood did not waste much time, scoring on a 45-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. The PAT was no good, leaving the score 6-0. Highland answered back with a field goal to make the score 6-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter brought a bit more action to the field. After driving down the field, Highland's, John Herschberger fought his way up the middle from a yard out for the score. PAT good, Westwood 6, Highland 10. Westwood began their drive on the 20 after a touchback. Because of the heavy winds, Westwood opted to keep the ball on the ground, trying to grind it out against Highlands defensive line, anchored by the big man, Richard Tuitu'u. Westwood was unable to gain much yardage until a 15 yard facemask penalty gave them a first down. Seeing that their running game was not doing the job, the Warriors went to the air, completing consecutive passes to drive into Highland territory.
With 3:39 left in the half, Westwood's quarterback Brice Wilkens was forced out the pocket and rolled left. Worried about the pass rush, he forced a throw and it was intercepted by a Highland defender. Highland moved the ball a short distance up the field, but a good stand by the Westwood defense forced Highland to punt. Feeling some pressure, the Highland punter botched the kick, booting the ball 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. Thinking to take advantage of the opportunity, Westwood handed the ball to Keigan Thompson. After a few positive runs, the Warriors put the ball in the air again, only to have it intercepted with 42.2 seconds left in the half. On the very next play, Highland fumbled the ball and Westwood recovered on the Highland 21yard line. Westwood drove the ball, scoring on a 9 yard rollout pass. To make up for the missed PAT earlier, Westwood went for 2, converting successfully. Halftime: Westwood 14, Highland 10.
At the start of the 3rd quarter, the weather decided to calm down, with just a light mist coming down with virtually no wind. Westwood took the kickoff and began with the run. #34, Keegan Thompson picked up the load, starting with some short runs and breaking one for 24 yards. Despite his efforts, Westwood found itself in a 4th and 1 situation at the Highland 33 and opted to go for it. The ensuing run was successful and they moved the ball to the Highland 18 yard line. Again on fourth down, with 8 yards to go, Westwood attempted to pick up the first down but the pass was incomplete. Highland wasted no time, driving the ball down the field, using their two running backs Herschberger and Wesley Orth to keep the Westwood defense on its heels. Though successful with the run, Highland threw the ball into the end zone where it was picked off by a Westwood defender and returned to the Highland 6 yard line. End of 3rd quarter: Westwood 14, Highland 10.
The 4th quarter brought some clutch play by both teams to keep their chances alive. Westwood turned to workhorse Keegan Thompson, who began grinding out some tough yards along with some long runs. Despite his efforts, the ball was turned over to Highland when the Westwood quarterback was sacked on 4th down. Westwood's defense stepped up though, forcing Highland to punt the ball. Highland was able to pin their opponent inside the 15. Westwood was unable to do much with the ball and ended up with a 41 yard punt that was caught by Highland on their 37 yard line.
Herschberger again was utilized to run the ball down the field. He had consecutive 10+ yard runs and then fought for some tough yards to get a critical first down inside Westwood's 20 yard line. On fourth and one on Westwood's 4 yard line, Highland faked the hand off and threw a TD pass to wide open Shaun Fitzpatrick for the go ahead touchdown. The PAT was good making the score Westwood 14, Highland 17, with 1:58 left to play. Westwood gave it a valiant effort, but with Fitzpatrick putting pressure on the quarterback every time he dropped back and add Tuitu'u tackling the running back for a loss on a critical 3rd down, Highland forced Westwood into a desperate pass attempt, which was intercepted with 58.5 seconds left in the game. Final score: Westwood 14, Highland 17.
Bottom Line: Highland used its power running game to control the clock and was able to limit the big plays. Highland is hot at the right time and poses a serious threat to who ever they are playing each week.
Westwood: #34 Keegan Thompson – His name was called all game long, whether on offense of defense, he is always making plays.
Highland: #25 John Herschberger – This young man can grind out the yards and is around the ball on defense almost every play.