WAHLUKE - Through nearly two quarters it was anyone's game before it all came undone for the Mabton Vikings in a 33-6 football loss at Wahluke this past Friday to end the 2008 regular season.
Mabton (0-8, 1-9) opened the contest by moving the ball on its first possession to the Warriors' 30-yard line before penalties set the Vikings back and forced a punt.
Wahluke scored in the first quarter to lead 6-0 and Mabton was still within two scores, down 14-0 heading into the final three minutes of the first half.
Mabton Coach Brandon Harting said that's when the game began to get away from the Vikings. First, Harting said he called the wrong play with no timeouts, which resulted in a Wahluke interception and touchdown. Mabton fumbled the ensuing kick-off, setting Wahluke up at the Viking-35 and a short touchdown drive.
That put Wahluke up 27-0 at the half and the game all but out of reach.
"We were playing them tough, even with two offensive guards that were freshmen," Harting said of his team's effort to stay in the game before the costly turnovers late in the first half. "We battled tough and the defense played hard."
After Wahluke closed out its scoring with a touchdown in the third stanza, Mabton finally lit up the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. The Vikings scored on a 60-yard drive keyed by a 22-yard pass reception by Michael Conradt. Andy Rivera got Mabton into the end zone with a four-yard run.
"We played hard the whole game," said Harting. "We responded well and kept fighting."
Noe Gutierrez led Mabton's ground game with 35 yards on 12 carries, while teammate Ronnie Carlson carried the ball seven times for 17 yards.
Gutierrez, a sophomore who Harting said rushed for between 750 and 800 yards this season, was an all-league honorable mention selection for Mabton, as was senior Zach Peralez, who played guard and defensive tackle for the Vikings.
Besides Gutierrez, Mabton has a host of other players returning next season; including freshman quarterback Josh Sanchez, Carlson and receiver/running back Josh Strickland.
As part of Mabton's youth movement, the Vikings will lose only one player from this year's offensive line.
That bodes well for the future, but Harting said there's much work to do.
"We have a lot of work in the off season," he said. That work includes spring practice and scrimmages against Granger, as well as a football camp.
It also means school work, as Mabton opened the 2008 season with 19 players ineligible, then got hit again in week seven with 23 athletes academically ineligible.
Harting said in response he's going to try to work with other Mabton coaches to develop a study hall plan. "I want to see what we can do to help get them (student athletes) finishing on the right track."