The No. 8 Mesa Thunderbirds with a record of 8-2 hosted the No. 7 and 10-0 Lackawanna Falcons of Scranton, Pa. to participate in the Valley of the Sun Bowl game on Dec. 3. The match features two of the nation’s most high-powered offenses led by the play of their quarterbacks. For Mesa, it was sophomore Rathen Ricedorff, who has earned WSFL offensive player of the year honors after throwing 37 touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions all year long. David Pendell leads the falcons who hoped to continue their dominance out West. Pendell ended the regular season with a national player of the week title while also earning Northeast conference player of the week twice this season.
He came into the bowl game with 27 touchdown passes and six interceptions. As the game started Lackawanna showed signs of domination early after cruising down the field on their first few possessions while holding Mesa down to three and out drives nearly the whole quarter. In that quarter Pendell threw for two touchdowns to his wideout Jerrod Diggs and then rushed for one. Pendell seemed to be a one-man show putting up a beat down on Mesa Community College.
The T-Birds were visibly upset coming off the field after a big play that caused plenty of penalties against Thunderbirds.As the team entered the second quarter so did their lackluster play. Bad throws, dropped quality passes, penalties, and poor execution kept the Thunderbirds scoreless through the first quarter. Lackawanna defensive secondary often left Mesa receivers wide open with plenty of opportunities to score. On defense, however, Mesa appeared to have started to learn Pindell’s plays. It was not until about four minutes remaining in the half that Ricedorff and the Mesa offense looked confident.
Wide receiver Skylor Clinton opened the scoring for Mesa with an 11-yard touchdown ending the half with the Thunderbirds trailing 21-7. Because of that touchdown, MCC Coach Ryan Felker spoke during halftime with a hopeful tone knowing that if the defense continued with that momentum in the second half there would be a strong possibility to make a comeback. The second half started out with Mesa receiving the ball, and it took two plays for their momentum to solidify and turn it into a real game. A Mesa 63 yard drive capped off by a 53-yard touchdown pass from Ricedorff to Aguirre shortened Lackawanna’s lead to seven, for a score of 21-14. Later that quarter Mesa tied the game.
Lackawanna didn’t let the tie last for long. 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. The second half opened up the scoring from the start and it continued into the fourth as both offenses on their first two possessions were capped off by rushing touchdowns. First by Mesa’s freshman running back Tyrek Cross, and then on Lackawanna’s possession ended with a Marcellias Sutt 35 yard run. Bringing the score to a Lackawanna lead of 35-28 midway through the fourth. With just under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Ricedorff launched a 40-yard touchdown pass to Aguirre to bring the score to its third tie of the second half at 35-35. From that point on it was fabulous defense that forced the game to go to overtime
From that point on it was the fabulous defense that forced the game to go to overtime. In the first overtime, Mesa had possession of the ball and scored with Cross who added to his rushing touchdown totals to two and finished with six attempts for 23 yards for the game. Altogether, Mesa had 82 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Lackawanna came out to the opposite 25 near the red zone having to score a touchdown or it would be over. Mesa stopped a run down the middle only allowing a gain of one but that set up a 24-yard pass that would tie it at 42-42 and take it to a second overtime. That is when Pindell found Diggs for the third time in the game and forced a double over time.
Lackawanna opened the second overtime on offense but was unable to score as freshman kicker Erik Hill missed wide left on a 33-yard field goal attempt. This gave Mesa’s offense the chance to end the game with a much sought after win.On the next play, Ricedorff hit Aguirre for the fourth and final time of the night in the corner of the end-zone for a 25-yard touchdown to finish off the game.Darius Aguirre earns Valley of the Sun Bowl MVP with 13 receptions for 202 yds & four touchdowns.