Scottsdale, AZ - It wasn't pretty and sometimes unsettling but a win is a win. For the #6 Mesa Thunderbirds, it's seven wins in a row as they beat the Scottsdale Artichokes, 35-32, on Scottsdale's homecoming night.
"Playmakers make plays when plays need to be made," said Mesa head football coach Ryan Felker.
T-Bird quarterback Rathen Ricedorff led Mesa on a 79 yard game winning drive like he was Joe Montana with less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter to give Mesa its three point victory.
The drive was capped off with a Sonnie Richardson quick pass to the left, which Richardson dashed pass three Artichoke defenders for an 11 yard score, giving the Artichokes just over a minute to try and score themselves.
Mesa's defense forced a fourth down passing situation for the Artichokes and it was none other than defensive end Rashun Parker who hit the quarterback just as he was throwing, causing a bad pass and Mesa sealing the game.
Coming off a bye week, Mesa had some rust to knock off but in the first quarter, it looked as though they were knocking that rust off pretty quick.
Linebacker Santana Sterling scored Mesa's first touchdown of the night when he intercepted a Artichoke pass over the middle, which he raced eight yards for Mesa's fourth defensive touchdown of the season.
Scottsdale matched right back down on its next position, eventually punching it in from a yard out to tie the game at seven.
The next possession was the Dionte Sykes show as Ricedorff launch a pass deep down the middle of the field with Sykes making an incredible diving grab. A few plays later, Sykes out leaped the Artichokes cornerback for a 10 yard touchdown reception. For Sykes, he now has nine touchdown receptions on the season.
Shortly thereafter, Ricedorff found Darius Aguirre down the right sideline on a go route, which ended in a 29 touchdown strike to extend Mesa's lead to 21-7.
The quick momentum and lead for Mesa dwindle though as they idled through the second quarter, allowing Scottsdale to cut the lead to 21-18 at halftime. Penalties and frustration took over for a time for Mesa, as the Artichokes took a 25-21 lead in the third quarter.
Mesa's first points of the second half didn't come til the fourth quarter when Aguirre snaked through the Scottsdale punt return defense for a 79 yard punt return. For Aguirre, this is his second consecutive game scoring both a receiving touchdown and returning a punt for a touchdown.
Mesa's defense began clamping down, forcing the Artichokes to punt. But with two and half minutes to play, the Artichoke quarterback found a wide open receiver down the right side for a 71 yard touchdown, putting Scottsdale up, 32-28.
But playmakers make plays when plays need to be made and that's just what Ricedorff did on Mesa's final possession. Ricedorff tried connecting with Sykes down the middle of the field but Scottsdale was flagged for pass interference, which gave Mesa a fresh set of downs.
Ricedorff then connected with his other big play receiver, DeShawn Jones, down the left side for a big gain to get Mesa inside the redzone. A few plays later, it was Richardson in from 11 yards that gave Mesa its three point advantage and secured the T-Birds seven game winning streak.
Mesa moves to 7-1 on the season, with a 5-0 conference record. This win secures Mesa of hosting the Valley of the Sun Bowl in December.
Now the big test of the season is upon the T-Birds this week as they welcome the #2 rank Arizona Western Matadors to Mesa for a November 5th showdown at John D. Riggs Stadium.
Kickoff for that contest will be at 7 p.m.