SPOKANE - The Sunnyside High School football team tangled with a gorilla last Friday night.
Grizzly Coach Mark Marro said the unbeaten Mt. Spokane Wildcats were every bit as good as advertised.
"I think we played the best team on the east side of the mountains, regardless of classification," Marro said of the 47-7 thrashing administered by Mt. Spokane.
"I won't be surprised if they end up in the State title game," he added.
Last Friday's Regional playoff victory by the Wildcats puts the Spokane club into the final 16-team bracket of the 3A State playoffs.
For Sunnyside (3-7), the Regional playoff loss brings an end to the Grizzlies' season.
Mt. Spokane (10-0) wasted little time in taking control of the postseason contest last Friday. The Wildcats jumped out to a 19-0 first quarter lead, mainly due to the efforts of their star player, Colten Williams. After Mt. Spokane QB Travis Ward scampered nine yards for the first TD of the game, Williams bulldozed into the end zone from two yards out, then caught a pass from Ward on the Wildcats' next possession and rumbled 37 yards for his second score of the night.
Williams put an exclamation point on the playoff game for the Wildcats midway through the second quarter, when he scored on another 2-yard run. That touchdown upped Mt. Spokane's lead to 26-0.
Williams would end the night with only 28 rushing yards on six carries, but the running back made up for the low production by hauling in six passes from Ward, good for 127 yards. Most of that yardage came after the catch.
Mt. Spokane tacked on another score just before intermission, a 62-yard TD hook-up between Ward and Chase Naccarato that increased the Wildcats' lead to 33-0.
The icing on the cake for the Wildcats was applied in the third quarter. The first dagger came on a 17-yard TD pass from Ward to Joey Murry. The crushing blow was a 6-yard touchdown run by Tyler Hillie, which upped Mt. Spokane's lead to 47-0.
Sunnyside erased its goose egg off the scoreboard at the halfway point of the fourth period, when senior Danny Almeida plunged into the end zone from the 4-yard line.
A major component of the Grizzlies' game play was to shut down Mt. Spokane's run. Sunnyside, for the most part, did that, limiting the Wildcats to 140 rushing yards.
Mt. Spokane countered, though, by throwing short, horizontal passes to its running backs and wideouts. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the QB Ward was dead on target last Friday, going 12-for-12 through the air.
It didn't help matters any that the Grizzlies weren't making stops on the initial contact once the receivers had the ball in their hands.
"They were all short yardage passes, we just weren't making good tackles," said Marro of his team's defensive efforts.
Offensively for Sunnyside, the senior Almeida and sophomore Israel Manzo provided the one-two punch for the Grizzlies. Together they gained 150 yards on the ground in an attack that was predominantly run-oriented.
"We ran the ball decently," said Marro. "But it seemed we always had a penalty that killed our drive.
"We didn't play our best game," he added.
Despite the blowout loss last Friday, the Grizzlies are taking several positives from this season into next year, including the experience of having qualified for the Regional playoffs.
"I thought we could have won a couple more games this year, like the one at Lewiston (Idaho)," said Marro. "The important thing is, nobody quit or let up at the end of the season, including last Friday night.
"And, we kept getting better each week. Week in and week out, we kept improving," he said.
Marro said when he first took on the Grizzly grid program six years ago no one was surprised if the team suffered a 56-0 loss.
"Now, if we lose 24-21 people are upset. The expectations are that we no longer are going to get blown out. I like that," Marro said.
In looking ahead, the Grizzlies will have to replace half a dozen or so senior starters on both sides of the ball. The nucleus is in place, however, to rebuild successfully, said Marro, with the return of numerous underclassmen who saw plenty of action this season.
RUSHING - (Sunnyside) Andrew Daley 8-(-8), Victor Rios 3-2, Israel Manzo 14-66, Danny Almeida 13-84. (Mt. Spokane) Colten Williams 6-28, Nathan Blackham 4-15, Travis Ward 5-53, Chase Naccarato 1-9, Larson Blumnethal 3-23, Tyler Hillie 3-11, T.J. McGriff 1-2, Brady Roberts 1-(-1).
PASSING - (Sunnyside) Andrew Daley 3-9-1-27. (Mt. Spokane) Travis Ward 12-12-0-222.
RECEIVING - (Sunnyside) Victor Rios 1-8, Israel Manzo 1-8, Danny Almeida 1-11. (Mt. Spokane) Colten Williams 6-127, Nathan Blackham 2-5, Chase Naccarato 2-71, Joey Murry 1-17, Chip Propp 1-15.