MESA, AZ – After starting the game on a 28-0 scoring run, the #19-ranked Mesa Community College football team (4-1, 2-0 WSFL) held off a second half comeback by the Scottsdale Community College Artichokes (0-5, 0-2 WSFL) on Saturday night to earn a 35-26 victory at John D. Riggs Stadium in Mesa.
In a high scoring affair, the stars of the show were Mesa's sophomore quarterback Rathen Ricedorff and Scottsdale's freshman Andrew Bunch, who combined for almost 480 yards passing and five touchdowns, but with over 200 yards and two touchdowns by himself in the first half, Ricedorff and the Thunderbirds were able to build a first half lead that the Artichokes were never able to catch up with.
As the game started, both teams were unable to score on their first drive, but with 7:51 to play in the first quarter, Ricedorff connected with sophomore receiver Dionte Sykes just past the pylon to rack up the first points of the game, taking an early lead, 7-0.
With Scottsdale trying to catch up from an early deficit less than three minutes later, Mesa's sophomore linebacker James Vaifale forced a fumble on Bunch, only to make the recovery and return it to the end zone for a 29-yard defensive touchdown.
Now leading 14-0, the ensuing kick-off proved to be helpful for the Thunderbirds as well when Scottsdale's freshman kick returner David McGriff was accidently tackled by one of his teammates, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Mesa's sophomore Marcus Brantley at the Scottsdale three yard line.
On the next play, freshman running back Jocquez Kalili ran it in for yet another Mesa touchdown, giving the Thunderbirds a 21-0 lead with 5:01 to play in the first quarter.
The second quarter brought more good fortune for the Thunderbirds when Ricedorff completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Skylor Clinton.
Mesa now held a four-touchdown lead, but on the following kick-off, Scottsdale's freshman Traivon Clayton returned it 86 yards to give the Artichokes their first points of the game, 28-7.
The Artichokes were also able to score with less than a minute to play in the first half, when Bunch found freshman receiver George Wolter IV in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Mesa lead at the half to 28-14.
On the opening drive of the second half, Scottsdale's sophomore kicker Eric Lopez was able to connect on a 41-yard field goal, and after Mesa's freshman Jocqui Ellison fumbled the ensuing kick off, Lopez nailed a 33-yard kick to make it a one-score game, 28-20.
The Thunderbirds didn't waste any time on their following drive as they marched down the field and Ricedorff found Sykes for his second touchdown catch of the day, this one of the one-yard variety, and strengthened their lead once again to 35-20.
As we entered the fourth quarter, both teams were unable to find a rhythm, but on fourth down with 6:50 to play in the game, Bunch completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Derek Loville II, and with a missed attempt on the two-point conversion, the Artichokes were still down 35-26.
Still trailing by nine, Scottsdale attempted one final comeback, but a forced fumble on Bunch by the T-Birds on fourth down was all that Mesa needed to seal the deal and come away with the win, 35-26.
The Thunderbirds will next be in action next Saturday for their Homecoming game when the Phoenix College Bears come to Mesa in a battle of nationally ranked teams. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. MST.