Mesa Football Shines in Home Opener

Ian Caffarel, Staff Writer

After a crushing 27-10 loss in their season opener against Southwestern, the reigning conference champion Olympians returned home, looking to make amends in front of their home crowd as they took on Golden West’s Rustlers.


It was a very interesting game, and ultimately the Olympians came out on top, 27-21, earning first-year head coach Gary Watkins his first win.


Both sides of the ball played very well, with impressive offensive and defensive performances, but special teams left a lot to be desired, with a missed field goal, missed extra point attempt, several short punts that allowed the Rustlers to start drives in Mesa territory, and a kickoff out of bounds. They did have a good showing in the fourth quarter when they recovered a muffed punt.


The visitors opened up with some trickery when they performed a surprise onside kick which they recovered at Mesa’s 39, and took it into the end zone by the time the first two minutes of the game were over. Mesa’s offense opened up with a three-and-out, then the defense forced an interception; both teams traded punts before freshman quarterback Jake Dunninway led the team 82 yards downfield, capping it off with a 6-yard pass to Dominic McManus to knot things up.


In the second quarter, after another defensive three-and-out, Dunninway completed a 36-yard pass to McManus to take a one-score lead. The two teams traded punts, then Golden West quarterback Nathaniel Espinoza threw an interception which Darriel Weathers returned to the visitors’ 12; a penalty moved it to the 6, but the Olympians could not capitalize as the offense moved backward, and then kicker Justin Kaplan missed a 31-yard field goal. The Olympians did get the ball back, and converted it into a third Dunninway-to-McManus touchdown pass, this time from nine yards out, and that would be the score going into the half.


After a scoreless third quarter, Golden West began the fourth with the ball. Espinoza completed a 16-yard score to Ben Ratzlaff to make the score 21-14. Mesa’s ensuing drive stalled at their own 38; however, Golden States’ return man, Darius Maxwell, muffed the punt which was recovered at his own 17 by Mesa wide receiver Dejon Smith. On the ensuing Mesa drive, freshman running back Tyler Tutt would take it into the end zone from 11 yards out, but the extra point attempt was blocked, leaving the score at 27-14. Golden West then drove 77 yards in 10 plays, with Espinoza running it in himself to cut the deficit to six.


Golden West would get one final possession in their own territory, but after picking up a first down, Espinoza threw four incomplete passes, after which Mesa ran out the remaining 1:25 to seal the victory.


Jake Dunninway completed 21 of his 39 passing attempts for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Milan Grice was the team’s leading rusher with 16 carries for 71 yards. Dominic McManus, with his eight catches for 97 yards and three scores, led the team in receptions. The Olympians did not turn the ball over, while the team’s defense and special teams forced five takeaways.


After the game, Coach Watkins told the team, “Enjoy your win, don’t do anything stupid, but come in on Monday ready to work.”


The Olympians will continue their season on the road against LA Pierce, then return home for the homecoming game against Grossmont.