There was less than a minute remaining Saturday afternoon at C.A. Foster Stadium when the Mesa Ridge fan base on the home sideline began the chant they have desperately wanted to boast the last couple of years:
"This is our house!"
Tremell Stanley, Elijah Gilbert and the Mesa Ridge sideline joined in emphatically, echoing their pleasure of defeating crosstown rival Widefield 42-10 in an extremely physical Battle for Widefield on Saturday afternoon.
It was the first time in four years that Mesa Ridge (3-3, 1-2 4A Foothills League) defeated Widefield (0-6, 0-3), with which it shares C.A. Foster Stadium.
"Man, we have been waiting three years for that trophy and we finally got it," Gilbert said. "I am just blessed to have a team like this."
Gilbert, who returned the first punt of the game for a 58-yard touchdown, made a game-changing interception with 6:40 left in the third quarter after a DQ Baker 20-yard touchdown run had cut the Mesa Ridge lead to 14-7. The Gladiators recovered the ensuing onside kick and were threatening at the Mesa Ridge 27 before Gilbert snagged Baker's pass on fourth down in the left flat, despite nearly being fooled by Baker's play-action fake.
It was another failed opportunity for Widefield, which had a chance to tie the game late in the second quarter with the ball at the Mesa Ridge 9-yard line before two fumbles and two sacks led to a turnover on downs.
"We've made mistakes all year long and when you make mistakes like that you don't win football games," said first-year coach Brent Cottrell. "We need to get better. We are not where we need to be."
Baker was hurt on the final play of the game - a 33-yard dash down the left sideline - and finished the day with 285 yards on 42 carries after Widefield let the wide receiver take direct snaps while lined up in the backfield with quarterback Anthony Wentzel.
"We wanted the ball in his hands," Cottrell said. "The more we can put the ball in his hands the better. He is a special player and you need to put the ball in his hands."
Following Gilbert's interception, Stanley gashed the Gladiators defense by bouncing off left tackle and rumbling his way for a 53-yard touchdown to give Mesa Ridge a 21-7 lead with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter. The senior, who finished with 205 yards on 22 carries, would later make it 28-10 on a 7-yard run with 9:42 left in the game.
"It feels really good. Three years overdue," Stanley said. "All of the community knows we won that game ball fair and square. It's just all the pride in the world, and it's nice to be out here with my boys winning this."
The weakside linebacker led the fierce Mesa Ridge defense all day long, and made a crucial play during Mesa Ridge's touchdown to end the first half when the 195-pound bruiser laid a crushing block on a Widefield rusher, allowing quarterback Thomas Bisgrove to find Dustin Rase for a 25-yard touchdown with five seconds remaining in the half.
At the end of the game the Mesa Ridge players made sure coach Rob Braaten hoisted the Battle for Widefield trophy.
"The past couple of years Widefield has gotten the better of us," Braaten said. "But not this year."