GILBERT - Desert Vista was in its normal comeback mode.
The Thunder have shown all season that they don't feel the effects of a late deficit, an attribute that led to an eight-game win streak and almost unfathomable run to the Class 5A Division I state semifinals.
Desert Vista trailed by four points in the fourth quarter Friday and the script was set up perfectly.
Only Jordan Becerra and Joey Counts had other ideas.
The Mesa Desert Ridge duo stepped up to end the Thunder's fantastic season as the 10th-seeded Jaguars poured it on late for a 41-17 Class 5A Division I semifinal victory over third-seeded Desert Vista at Mesquite High School .
"Man, I tell you, that's a great football team. I have to hand it to Desert Ridge and (head coach Jeremy Hathcock)," Desert Vista head coach Dan Hinds said. "They really got it going on right now. Very impressive bunch of kids."
With how hard Becerra, the quarterback, was running - to the tune of 239 yards on 25 carries - it would be understandable if the Desert Vista defense started doubling - even tripling - up on Becerra with hopes of slowing down the Jaguar offense.
Just one problem: what would the Thunder do with Counts, he of the 26-carry, 171-yard effort?
The tandem combined to score three times in the final three minutes of the game to blow open a one-possession game.
"They did the same thing to Mountain Pointe. Look at that score and all of a sudden you see the game at the end they go bam-bam," Hinds said. "That's the kind of offense they have. They're so explosive."
Before Desert Ridge exploded into its first state title game, the Thunder had its chance.
With Desert Ridge leading 21-17 at that six-minute mark, a pass from Desert Vista quarterback Hunter Rodriguez looked to hit Thunder receiver Shaw Loomer in stride, without a single defender near him, but the ball fell incomplete.
While Hinds was quick to point out after the game that that lone play didn't lose the game for the Thunder - or inversely win the game for the Jaguars - Desert Ridge made the most of its second life.
Still leading by just four inside three minutes to play, the Jaguars scored on touchdown runs of 55, 20 and 65 by Becerra, Counts, and Becerra again to an unreachable 24-point final differential.
"Our motto for this season was finish. The last few seasons we haven't been able to finish," Becerra said of Desert Ridge's ability to score virtually at will during the game's final minutes. "So we just got the ball and ran and ran."
Hathcock noted that it was Desert Vista's ability to capitalize on the relatively slow start by Desert Ridge that made the ballgame tight for the better part of 47 minutes.
"They did a good job in the first half, we made some mental mistakes (and) it swung their way; They made some mistakes and it swung our way," he said, noting that seesaw battles were nothing new for either team. "(Against) Mountain Pointe we had six lead changes; Chandler I believe we had five or six lead changes."
Desert Vista cut a 13-0 Desert Ridge lead on a 15-yard pass from Rodriguez to tight end Sean Coffinger - that rounded out the first-half scoring at 13-7 - and then took the lead at 14-13 well into the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Michael Ingrassia.
"We knew it was going to be a shootout. I knew at that point that wasn't going to do it," Hinds said of his team's short-lived lead.
Ingrassia, Desert Vista's most potent offensive weapon all season, was bottled up most of the night. He caught two short passes, while running for 57 yards on 10 carries. Rodriguez completed 19 of 28 passes for 171 yards.
"The scoreboard definitely didn't say what that game was," Ingrassia said. "This team played its heart out."
Coffinger, who started much of last season at quarterback for the Thunder before shifting back to tight end for his senior year, caught seven passes for 96 yards in his final game for the Thunder.
"Like coach said, we were picked to come last in the Fiesta," Coffinger said. "We did last year. The seniors especially, we came out with a goal. We said "Let's be the seniors that turn this thing around." '
The loss ended a season that no one outside of the Desert Vista locker room had any idea was coming before the season began.
"It was a great run," Hinds said of his team's trek from a 2-8 record in 2009 to one step away from a state title game berth this season. "Especially early, we had that shadow of last year hanging over our head. We lost a couple of close ones early in the season, and it could have gone either way. They chose this path.
"This was probably my favorite season coaching because of everything that went on - watching them transform into the team they are."
Desert Ridge 41, Desert Vista 17
First downs 19 15
Rushes -yards 52-417 29-139
Passing yards 52 171
Comp-Att-Int 3-9-0 19-28-0
Fumbles-lost 3-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-41 5-60
1 2 3 4 -- T
Desert Ridge 10 3 8 20-- 41
Desert Vista 0 7 7 3-- 17
DR - Berzins 30 field goal (1st, 9:19)
DR - Clark 21 pass from Becerra (Berzins kick) (1st, :14)
DR - Berzins 41 field goal (2nd, 8:59)
DV - Coffinger 15 pass from Rodriguez (Gieseking kick) (2nd, 4:49)
DV - Ingrassia 1 run (Gieseking kick) (3rd, 4:08)
DR - Counts 43 run (Becerra conversion run) (3rd, 1:55)
DV - Gieseking 31 field goal (4th, 11:49)
DR - Becerra 55 run (Berzins kick) (4th, 2:47)
DR - Counts 20 run (Berzins kick) (4th, 2:33)
DR - Becerra 65 run (kick failed) (4th, 1:30)
Mesa Desert Ridge (10-3) defeated Phoenix Desert Vista (10-3) 41-20, in a Class 5A-Division I state semifinal matchup Friday at Mesquite High School in Gilbert.
Holding on to a 21-17 lead inside three minutes to play - with Desert Vista still holding two timeouts - Desert Ridge quarterback Jordan Becerra broke off a 55-yard touchdown run to all but seal the game for the Jaguars.
PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Mesa Desert Ridge quarterback Jordan Becerra ran for 239 yards on 25 carries, with two touchdowns.
Inside three minutes to play, the score was 21-17. Desert Ridge scored three times in the final 2:47 of the game.