If there was any question as to the legitimacy of the old saying about throwing records out for a rivalry game, we present Widefield vs. Mesa Ridge as Exhibit A.
A game that shouldn’t have been close was instead an absolute thrill ride, with Widefield overcoming a 20-point, third-quarter deficit, going for two to net the game-winner in the final minutes and then hanging on for a 27-26 victory only after a potential go-ahead touchdown from Mesa Ridge was called back because of a penalty.
Yes, this is the kind of game that can be expected from district rivals who share a stadium -- no matter how out of character it may have been based on the teams’ performances over the first five weeks.
“Just as long as we have our rivalry game, that’s the most important one of the year,” said Gladiators senior Carlos Bowdre, who recovered a fumble in the final minute to seal the victory.
Widefield (1-5, 1-2 4A Foothills) celebrated like it hadn’t won all year, largely because it hadn’t. After winning their first league title since the 1990s last season, the Gladiators were outscored 188-84 over a winless five-game stretch to open the year and lost star running back Marquis Coddington to a torn ACL.
Mesa Ridge (4-2, 2-1), on the other hand, steamrolled into this game riding a convincing four-game winning streak.
Naturally, the situation looked pretty bleak for the Gladiators when Tremell Stanley -- who ran for a game-high 91 yards -- scored his second touchdown to put Mesa Ridge up 20-0 with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter.
“I told them don’t self-destruct,” Widefield coach Fred Marjerrison said. “They kept playing and the defense made a couple stops.”
Eugene Sanabria and Markiece Bellamy scored touchdowns that brought Widefield within six points early in the fourth quarter, but Mesa Ridge answered with Elijah Gilbert’s second touchown that was set up by a 69-yard kickoff return from Bryce Johnson.
Even then, Widefield didn’t go away.
“They’ve got to earn the victory from us, regardless of our record,” Marjerrison said. “That’s what I want our kids to know about Widefield.”
That’s when the Sanabria twins – seniors Eugene and Mario – took over.
Mario hit Eugene with a 22-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to seven points with 6:38 remaining. Then, after a sack from Bellamy forced Mesa Ridge to punt, it was Mario who scored on a fourth-and-goal play from the 10 with 2:34 remaining.
The call in the huddle was a pass, as four receivers were lined up to the left, but Sanabria saw that the linebackers had shifted out to leave the right side open. So he immediately took off after taking the shotgun snap.
“It went exactly like it went in my head,” Mario Sanabria said. “I had to beat the safety and score.”
Mario then hit Eugene on the go-ahead 2-point conversion.
“I broke down after that,” said Mario, who went 17-for-36 for 156 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. “I told Eugene, ‘This is us, baby. This is us.’”
Mesa Ridge had time for one last drive, and it certainly made it interesting. Morris Gilbert broke off what looked like a 23-yard touchdown run, but it was called back for a block in the back.
Two plays later the drama finally concluded when Bowdre recovered a fumble after a screen pass.
“We got that lead and then just didn’t play defense any more,” Mesa Ridge coach Rob Braaten said. “You can’t do that. They started doing some different stuff, we didn’t adjust and that’s on me as a coach.
“That’s football. We’re going to bounce back and be ready next week.”