The Sunnyside Grizzlies are headed to Spokane, and are looking to make some noise.
Last Friday night Sunnyside, for the third consecutive year, defeated the West Valley Rams football team. It was the Grizzlies' third victory in their last five games, but more importantly the dominating 31-8 win propels Sunnyside into the 3A playoffs.
Up first for the Grizzlies is a date with the Mt. Spokane Wildcats, most recently ranked as the No. 8 team in the 3A state poll. This coming Friday's game will get underway at 5:30 p.m. at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium. The winner will move on to the State final-16 bracket games, the loser will call it a season.
The key to getting past Mt. Spokane, according to Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro, will be limiting the number of times the Wildcats' offensive unit gets onto the field.
"The big thing for us is to slow down their offense," Marro said, noting the Wildcats have scored at least 35 points in all but two of their games this season.
The good news for the Grizzlies is that nearly all of Mt. Spokane's opponents this year have rung up points against the Wildcats.
"Teams are scoring against them," said Marro. "Offensively, I think we'll be OK against them.
"But our defense is going to have to step up," he said.
Specifically, Mt. Spokane has a running back, Colin Williams, who is adept at piling up yardage. The Wildcats aren't one-dimensional, however, as they feature a spread offense with four or five wideouts who are constantly in motion.
Mt. Spokane's quarterback, said Marro, throws the ball well, "...but it's mostly short stuff, not a lot vertically. They are a quick-paced team.
"We've seen spread offenses quite a bit this season already. We're going to have to play assignment football."
To move the ball against Mt. Spokane, the run-oriented Grizzlies will be looking to rush the pigskin between the tackles.
"We out-size them inside," Marro said of his players in the trenches, expressing the hope that the size advantage on the line will open some gaping holes for his stable of running backs.
Another area of the game the Grizzlies are looking to exploit this coming Friday is special teams play. Especially coming off the performance turned in by Sunnyside's kick and punt return squads last Friday against the visiting Rams.
Take, for example, the opening kickoff last Friday. Sunnyside's electrifying sophomore return specialist, Israel Manzo, grabbed the ball out of the air and raced 80-plus yards through a channel on the left side of the field created by his blockers, all the way to pay dirt.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the TD was nullified when a Sunnyside player threw a block far from the action on the field. The penalty forced Sunnyside to start its initial offensive march from its own 49-yard line. The drive eventually stalled at the Ram 7-yard line, from where Manzo booted a field goal and the Grizzlies had to settle for a 3-0 lead.
Sunnyside's special teams players wasted little time, though, to regain the spotlight. After the Grizzly defense stopped West Valley's first drive of the game at the Ram 42, Manzo scooped in the pigskin from his own 26-yard line on the ensuing punt and sprinted 74 yards to the end zone. The PAT put Sunnyside up 10-0.
"We'll be looking for good things from our special teams in Spokane this Friday," said Marro. He noted that Mt. Spokane isn't prone to kicking the ball away deep, instead the Wildcats prefer shorter kicks to secondary returners.
"We'll move some guys up to the second line," he said of the plan to make something happen when those return opportunities present themselves.
Marro is also hoping that his defense steps to the plate this coming Friday, in much the same fashion it did against West Valley.
After his club opened a 17-2 first-half lead on the Rams, made possible in part by a 5-yard scoring strike from QB Andrew Daley to senior running back Victor Rios, the Grizzlies pretty much salted the game away on the second play from scrimmage after intermission. Sunnyside senior cornerback Leo Cuellar stepped in front of a pass thrown by Rams QB Austin Warren, snatching it from mid-air and returning it 30 yards untouched to give the Grizzlies a 24-2 lead.
Marro praised the play of his defensive unit last Friday, especially singling out defensive ends Chance Graff and Adrian Ramirez, who together had four quarterback sacks between them and a several knock-downs of passes. Marro said nose tackle Jose Barajas also turned in a strong performance against the Rams.
Any hope the Rams had for a comeback went out the window when senior Danny Almeida, two Grizzly possessions later, capped off a 48-yard drive with a 10-yard bulldozing run up the gut into the end zone. Almeida, the leading ground gainer for Sunnyside this season, tallied a game-best 76 rushing yards last Friday night.
West Valley accounted for the final 31-8 score with a meaningless eight-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter, after Marro had subbed in several of his reserves.
In making the trip to Spokane this coming Friday, Marro and his coaching staff won't be dealing with any major injuries.
"The good thing about last Friday is that we came out of the West Valley game healthy," he said.
He acknowledges the Grizzlies have their work cut out for them against Mt. Spokane, but said the entire team is pumped about the challenge that awaits.
"It's like I've told the kids, anything can happen on any given night."
RUSHING - (West Valley) Ryan Clark 10-59, Derrick Andrews 10-40, Martin Wingfield 1-0, Austin Warren 13-(-36). (Sunnyside) Andrew Daley 3-14, Victor Rios 3-5, Israel Manzo 7-49, Emmanuel Tejada 1-0, Ryan Hernandez 2-(-3), Danny Almeida 13-76.
PASSING - (West Valley) Austin Warren 10-25-1-108. (Sunnyside) Andrew Daley 7-16-0-80.
RECEIVING - (West Valley) Derrick Andrews 1-3, Josh Owens 1-11, Jake Smith 6-53, Slate Diessner 2-41. (Sunnyside) Leo Cuellar 1-27, James Sanchez 1-6, Victor Rios 2-11, Israel Manzo 2-36, Danny Almeida 1-0.