MESA, AZ -- After a wild second half comeback and a championship effort from freshman receiver Darius Aguirre, the Mesa Community College football team (9-2, 6-1 WSFL) outlasted the Lackawanna College Falcons (10-1, 2-0 NFC), 48-42, in a double-overtime thriller on Saturday afternoon to captured the 2016 Valley of the Sun Bowl at John D. Riggs Stadium in Mesa.
Despite Lackawanna's sophomore quarterback David Pindell racking up 332 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns, the Thunderbirds were able to come out victorious in a game that will forever be remembered as an instant classic. Mesa's sophomore quarterback Rathen Ricedorff threw for 397 yards and a game-high of five touchdown passes, four of which went to Aguirre who added 199 receiving yards of his own as the Thunderbirds brought the Valley of the Sun Bowl trophy back to Mesa for the first time since 2007.
In the first quarter, Lackawanna took charge as they burst out to an early 21-0 lead. Pindell threw for two touchdowns to sophomore receiver Jerrod Diggs and ran for another touchdown in the opening quarter alone.
It wasn't until the second quarter that Mesa was able to put their own points on the board. With 4:02 remaining in the first half, Ricedorff connected with freshman Skylor Clinton for an 11-yard strike in the endzone that helped closed the gap going into halftime with a score of 21-7.
Coming out of the half, the Thunderbirds took no time at all as a two play, 63-yard drive ended with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Ricedorff to Aguirre and cut the deficit even further, 21-14. Then with 3:44 left in the third quarter, Mesa tied it at 21-21 when Ricedorff found Aguirre once again in the endzone, this time of the 20-yard variety.
Lackawanna didn't let the tie last for long as with less than one minute to play in the third, Pindell completed a five-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Zhaneer Shuler to recapture the lead going into the fourth quarter, 28-21.
After Mesa's freshman Tyrek Cross and Lackawanna's freshman Jo-El Shaw traded rushing touchdowns to open the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds tied it up for the final time in regulation, 35-35, with 9:40 remaining when Ricedorff launched a 40-yard touchdown pass to Aguirre. While both teams made great efforts to score by the end of regulation, the score stayed tied at 35-35 as the game headed to overtime.
In the first overtime, Mesa scored first as Cross tallied his second rushing touchdown of the game and punched it in from two yards out. The Falcons would tie it up at 42-42 and take it to a second overtime when Pindell found Diggs for the third time on the night with a 24-yard touchdown strike.
Lackawanna opened the second overtime on offense, but were unable to score as freshman kicker Erik Hill missed wide-left on a 33-yard field goal attempt.
On the next play, Ricedorff hit Aguirre for the fourth and final time of the night in the corner of the endzone for a 25-yard touchdown to finish off the comeback and win Mesa's fourth Valley of the Sun Bowl since 1989, 48-42.
This was Mesa's seventh appearance in the Valley of the Sun Bowl, and eleventh bowl appearance altogether, now boasting a 7-4 overall record in bowl games.