MESA — Mesa Eastmark used a successful passing game to score three times in the third quarter and twice in the fourth to pull away from Florence and earn a 42-5 win that made them Central Region champions Friday.

At halftime, “Our coaching staff made some great adjustments, and our kids came out and we really took care of the football. We shot ourselves in the foot the first half,” Firebirds coach Scooter Molander said. “Credit goes to the players and assistant coaches making adjustments, and our kids executed in the second half.”

Eastmark seems to have found its groove in the latter part of the season. “We started off 2-3 and we’re 5-0 since then,” Molander said. “We feel like we have momentum going into the playoffs. We know whoever we play is going to be a great opponent, and we need to get better this week and really prepare.”

Junior Austin Johnston found the end zone three times for the Firebirds. Jordan Howard, Gianni Mascolino and quarterback Mack Molander each scored once. Florence scored in the second and fourth quarters, both times by Kaleb Lewis.

As the Firebirds celebrated, the Gophers were on the other end of the field, hugging their coach and passing around Halloween cupcakes.

“It’s been a season of challenges, that’s for sure,” Florence coach Bill McKane said. “It wasn’t an easy season, but I’m so proud of our kids, the way they’ve improved and finished. They’re a classy team … I couldn’t tell you how proud I am of this group of young men and how grateful I am to coach them…

“As far as the game goes, they came out and played their darndest and hardest. They gave everything they had on every play. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Less than halfway into the third quarter, Johnston caught a 38-yard pass to put Eastmark in the lead for the first time.

Collin Minnaar later caught a 42-yard pass to put the home team 12 yards from goal, then Howard caught the scoring pass in the right corner of the end zone.

The Gophers also completed a big pass, 33 yards to Isaac Sandoval, in the third quarter, but three plays later, fumbled before they could score.

In the final 21 seconds of the quarter, Eastmark’s Molander passed to Mascalino, who ran it in for a total score of 65 yards.

The score was tied 7-7 at halftime. Florence scored first, two minutes into the second quarter, after Tommy Carberry returned a punt to 15 yards from goal. Four plays later, Lewis punched through the last yard for the touchdown. The home team responded when Johnston made a 17-yard catch in the end zone with 18 seconds left in the half.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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