ERIE — It wasn't the type of night that screamed "aerial assault." In fact, Mead's Tyler Keys was not having a spectacular night at all on his throws in the chilly confines of the Erie football stadium on Friday.
But after watching Erie fight back in what was a passion-filled contest on senior night and with the possibilities of a Tri-Valley League title being decided on the field, the Mavericks went to the air and connected for the game's biggest touchdown in a 42-28 victory for the still undefeated MHS.
Dom Esters made amends for a fumble on a kickoff return that actually gave Erie a chance to tie the game, grabbing a 37-yard pass reception from Keys with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left to lift the Mavericks to victory.
Mead improved to 9-0 with a chance to host Berthoud and finish with an undefeated campaign, while Erie dropped its second straight game but still remains in fine position for playoffs with a tough matchup against Frederick directly ahead.
"Erie's a great team and they fight and they battle, so this is just a great team win for us," Esters said after catching what ended up to be Keys' only pass completion of the night (1-for-6). "The coaches prepared us well, and we knew they weren't going to be a pushover. In tight games, you just have to keep pushing forward, and I fumbled that kickoff but the guys rallied around me.
"There's just a great team atmosphere right now."
Esters, Keys and the rest of the Mavericks were still active offensively — mainly in helping churn up yards on the ground after putting up over 630 rushing yards in last week's win against Holy Family. Keys did his part with 135 yards on 15 carries while Esters was responsible for plenty of outside blocking as Nathan Mackey and Jake Wachter worked inside and outside the hash marks.
Mackey scored on runs of 31, 1 and 41 yards — the final touchdown securing the win after a bizarre sequence that included Erie forcing the Mavericks to re-kick the football on a procedure call and then seeing Mead recover an onsides kick. That all came immediately after the Esters catch.
In tallying 448 rushing yards, Mead had gained a 28-14 lead just 1:05 into the fourth quarter. But Erie (7-2, 2-2 TVL) was prepared to battle to the finish. The Tigers made it 28-21 with a 60-yard drive capped by Jacob Mansdorfer's 3-yard touchdown with 7:08 left.
Esters fumbled on the kickoff and that gave Erie the ball right back at the Mead 27. With 4:16 left, Roper scored for a third time in the contest — he finished with 239 yards on 31 carries — and it was 28-28.
Mead's next possession started at midfield after a good return and a late Erie hit out of bounds. Keys converted a third-and-8 for a big first down before hitting Esters on a deep route.
"Coach (Jason) Klatt had the confidence in me, and I just can't put into words how that feels," Esters said. "Hats off to Erie, a crazy great team. But we kept our nose in the dirt the whole time."
Erie will try and bounce back against Frederick — a game that might present another challenge as the Warriors are much improved. Senior Cameron Marcucci, however, said they will have plenty of fuel coming off the bitter disappointment of Friday's result.
"Mead's offense is good and they have good backs, and we just had a couple of big breakdowns," Marcucci said. "It was just hard to take them down sometimes.
"The entire team fought so hard and we're proud of what we did, and we just have to focus on taking it to Frederick and getting into the playoffs."
Mead 42, Erie 28
At Erie HSMead (9-0, 4-0)014721—42Erie (7-2, 2-2)77014—28
Erie — Noah Roper 1 run (Julian Custine kick).
Mead — Tyler Keys 12 run (Taylor Kamigaki kick). Erie — Roper 2 run (Custine kick). Mead — Nathan Mackey 31 run (Kamigaki kick).
Mead — Mackey 1 run (Kamigaki kick).
Mead — Jake Wachter 80 run (Kamigaki kick). Erie — Jacob Mansdorfer 3 run (Custine kick). Erie — Roper 9 run (Custine kick). Mead — Dom Esters 37 pass from Tyler Keys (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Mackey 41 run (Kamigaki kick).
RUSHING — Mead: Nathan Mackey 18-181, Tyler Keys 15-135, Jake Wachter 6-109, Derek Edwards 6-23. Erie: Noah Roper 31-239, Jacob Mansdorfer 7-27, Dion Lucero 4-2, Colby Wingfield 4-21.
PASSING — Mead: Tyler Keys 1-6-1-37. Erie: Lucero 7-11-1-52.
RECEIVING — Mead: Dom Esters 1-37. Erie: Isaac Khanna 4-31, Mansdorfer 1-11, Zach Rees 1-4, Alex Mathis 1-6.