WATERVILLE - Saturday afternoon, the Mabton High School football team stamped itself as the favorite to win this year's Central Washington 'B' League title.
The Vikings, in a litmus test that few teams would relish taking on, upset the defending league champion Waterville Shockers, 42-21. Surprisingly, the league opening victory came on Waterville's home field.
The Shockers have won the league crown for the past several years. But Saturday's 21-point loss to Mabton perhaps signals an end to the dominance Waterville has enjoyed of late.
In knocking off the highly favored Shockers Saturday, Mabton had to dig itself out of an early hole. Waterville forged a 14-0 first quarter lead on the Vikes, and appeared ready to all but bury Mabton when a Shocker defensive back picked off a Viking pass and returned it deep into Mabton territory.
But two yards from paydirt and poised to take a three-touchdown lead on Mabton, the tide turned the Vikings way when cornerback Lupe Campos, a senior, intercepted a pass from Waterville QB Daley Landon and returned it to the Shockers' 45.
"Defensively, our kids rose to the occasion twice on Saturday," said Mabton Coach D.J. Search. "That pick by Lupe to keep Waterville going up by 21 points was the first time.
"Our kids also rose to the occasion by not stopping or trying. They kept believing we could do this," he said.
The pick by Campos eventually led to a 16-yard scoring scamper by senior running back Pablo Sanchez, the first of three TD's he would chalk up on the day.
Later in the second quarter, senior Ray Elizondo, who rushed for 89 yards on 17 totes Saturday, drew the Vikes even with Waterville when he broke off a 10-yard touchdown run. Kicker Luis Quintero's extra point attempt knotted the game up at 14-all heading into intermission.
Search said his club wasn't expecting Waterville to throw as much as it did Saturday afternoon. At halftime, he explained, the team made a few defensive adjustments, "...mostly just repositioning our linebackers."
The Vikes also talked at intermission about sending the Shockers a message. "We hit them hard. We were hitting hard in the first half, and we wanted to continue that in the second half," said Search.
The defensive pounding the Vikings laid on Waterville's offensive unit ended up wearing the Shockers down the last two quarters. Waterville could only muster one more touchdown after the break, that coming on a 50-yard sweep to the left that was the result of one of the few defensive breakdowns Mabton had in the game.
Mabton took its first lead of the game early on in the third quarter, when junior Ramon Castillo broke free for a 10-yard TD run. It was one of six carries for Castillo, who piled up 59 rushing yards. The Vikes had to settle for only a 6-point lead, though, as Quintero uncharacteristically missed the PAT.
Waterville briefly regained the lead, at 21-20, when its leading rusher, Heid, swept around the left end and went 50 yards to paydirt.
Mabton stiffened after that and refused the Shockers even a sniff of the end zone the rest of the way.
The Vikings took the lead for good when Sanchez burst across the goal line from three yards out. A two-point conversion scamper by QB Alex Zavala upped Mabton's lead to 28-21.
The third quarter yielded yet another TD for Mabton when Zavala pranced into the end zone from Waterville's 2-yard line. Quintero's PAT increased the Vikings' lead to 35-21.
Mabton added an insurance score in the final quarter-on a 24-yard pass from Zavala to Sanchez.
Sanchez finished as the leading rusher in the game, netting 139 yards on 15 carries. Zavala, running Mabton's option offense at quarterback, ran the ball seven times for 21 yards. He threw for 131 yards on 5-of-12 passing. Sanchez and Eric Tellez each hauled in two of Zavala's passes, with Moises Gutierrez grabbing the other pass.
As good as the offensive numbers were for Mabton on Saturday, they wouldn't have come without the efforts of the Vikings' offensive line.
"Our O line really was the key to our offense," said Search. "Our linemen were opening the holes when we needed them open, and were pulling when we were running plays outside.
"The bottom line, our O line was much more physical and better conditioned than Waterville's defensive line," Search said, mentioning the crunching trench play of Alex Balli, Robert Marquez, Ramon Moncivaiz, Adrian Magana and Nathan Smith.
"This was a big win," the Mabton coach continued. "It was awesome.
"Hopefully, it sends a big message to the rest of the league. We're going to play hard and we're going to hit hard," he added.
Mabton (1-0, 2-0) will host the LaSalle Lightning this coming Friday. Search said he figures LaSalle will look at the game as a key contest in terms of positioning itself for a run at one of the few berths the league offers to the State playoffs.
"It will be a big game for us, too," Search said.