Thatcher, AZ - The #6 Mesa Thunderbirds took down the Eastern Arizona Gila Monsters Saturday night, 26-21, in what turned out to be a defensive battle between the two Western States Footbal League contenders.
Though both teams showed defensive toughness throughout the game, it was Mesa's running back Terrance Roberts Jr who controlled the ground game on the first possession for the T-Birds. He capped off a long first drive for the T-Birds with a three yard touchdown run to give Mesa the first lead of the night, 7-0.
Later in the first quarter, Mesa used an 80 yard drive to push its lead to 14-0, with Tyrek Cross punching in a touchdown run from a yard out.
As the first half clock ticked down, Mesa's quarterback, Christian Lopez, scrambled to his left and flipped it to Justin Jan for a two yard touchdown pass, with two seconds left remaining on the clock. A missed extra point though put the score to 20-7 heading into halftime.
Eastern began the scoring in the third quarter with a three yard run, making it just a six point game, 20-14. Mesa hit a wall offensively, as they couldn't produce any points till the 5:17 mark of the fourth quarter. But it was the T-Bird defense that held strong, allowing just seven more points throughout the half.
The T-Bird defense also had big turnovers from cornerback Will Jackson III, who snagged his third interception of the season. The T-Birds couldn't convert the turnover to points however, missing a 31 yard field goal. Soni Fonua also recovered a fumble for the T-Birds.
The deciding score for Mesa that helped them take the lead and eventually helped them win the game all started with a roughing the kicker penalty.
As Mesa snapped the ball to attempt a 32 yard field goal, down 21-20, the T-Birds were whistled for a delay of game penalty, marking the ball back five yards. On the next field goal attempt, Mesa's kicker Aaron Aros missed wide left but was hammered by the Gila Monster defense, giving the T-Birds a fresh set of downs.
It was the Mesa defense that then stood its ground against the quick option heavy Eastern Arizona offense that helped the T-Birds move to 2-0 on the season.
"We have some things we need to clean up, especially when it comes to penalties," said Mesa Head Coach Ryan Felker, "but i'm proud of our guys, beating a good team on their home field."
Mesa will be back home next Saturday night against #15 Snow College at 7 pm.