It wasn't a thing of beauty, but in the end the Sunnyside Grizzlies walked off the field with a 21-20 homecoming victory over the Davis Pirates.
"It was pretty crazy," Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro admitted of last Friday's football match-up.
The 4A Pirates, traditionally a cellar-dweller in the Columbia Basin Big Nine but rebuilding this year and having already taken two other 4A teams to overtime this season, forged a 12-0 first half lead on 3A Sunnyside.
But instead of wilting, the Grizzlies fought back after intermission, thanks to some creative play-calling. Sunnyside went to its wildcat offense, and the Pirates had trouble reigning in the strange formations.
The thrust of the wildcat attack was having running back Israel Manzo taking the snaps from center. After having gained only 19 yards on the ground in the opening half, Manzo picked up 96 rushing yards in the final two quarters to power the comeback.
Junior Ryan Hernandez, filling in for starter Danny Almeida as Sunnyside's ace back because of an injury Almeida sustained last week, erased the goose egg off the Grizzlies' side of the scoreboard midway through the third period. Hernandez found the end zone on a one-yard plunge, his only carry of the game.
"Ryan may have had only one carry, but he really contributed last Friday," said Marro, explaining the junior provided some exceptional blocking.
Manzo, Sunnyside's leading rusher this season, gave the Grizzlies their first lead of the game five and a half minutes into the fourth quarter when he broke off a 12-yard TD run. Up 13-12, Sunnyside opted to go for the two-point conversion. Manzo, in his only pass attempt of the game, successfully lobbed the ball to Victor Rios for the score, giving the Grizzlies a 15-12 lead.
Davis stormed back, capping off a four-minute drive with a 31-yard scoring strike from QB Deion Wright to wideout Cooper Kupp. It was the second hook-up of the night for the two sophomores that went for a touchdown. Kupp is the grandson of former Sunnyside gridiron standout Jake Kupp, who went on to star in the NFL.
The QB Wright tip-toed the ball back into the end zone on a two-point conversion scramble to up the Pirates' lead to 20-15.
With only 3:23 showing on the clock, the collective sigh emitted by the Grizzly faithful was understandable. But, short-lived.
On the ensuing kick-off, the diminutive, 5'7", 150-lb. Manzo received the ball deep, then sprinted right up the gut.
"Nothing fancy, just a middle return. But we blocked it well up front," said Marro.
Manzo took advantage of the good blocking and found the open seam, racing 82 yards to pay dirt to give the Grizzlies a 21-20 lead.
"We were a little shocked (Davis) kicked it deep to (Manzo)," said Marro. "He had already had a couple of good kick returns earlier in the game."
Unfortunately for Sunnyside, the Pirates weren't about to go quietly into the night.
Davis began piecing together the potential go-ahead score. The Pirates eventually moved the ball deep into Grizzly territory.
With just under a minute to play, Wright...who had been perfect on the night with 12-of-23 passing numbers with no picks...fired a strike downfield to one of his receivers. Sunnyside linebacker Emmanuel Tejada stepped in front of the pass, however, grabbing the ball out of mid-air at the Grizzly 28-yard line to snuff the drive.
"Huge, it was a big play for us," Marro said of Tejada's interception.
The Grizzlies then ran the final 47 ticks off the clock to preserve the one-point victory.
In explaining his club's ineffectiveness in moving the ball in the opening half, Marro said Davis did a solid job of stuffing the line of scrimmage.
"They were putting eight, sometimes nine guys in the box," he said.
That forced Sunnyside to run more sweeps when pounding it out on the ground. When throwing the ball, QB Andrew Daley had little time in the pocket with the heavy rush, and had to roll out while looking downfield for his receivers.
"When the other team loads the box the way Davis did, you have to take your time and wait for something to pop," said Marro.
"We took what they gave us," he added.
Also heavily factoring into the second half turn-around for Sunnyside last Friday was field position. In the opening two quarters the Pirates for the most part made the Grizzlies start their drives from deep within their own territory. After intermission, though, Sunnyside was given short fields with which to work.
"The field position, we flipped it in our favor the second half," said Marro.
In holding the Pirates to 116 rushing yards and 167 through the air last Friday, Marro said club did a credible job on the defensive side of the line.
"I thought our defense was solid," he said. "We played man coverage all night. Other than a couple of plays, we kept everything underneath and controllable."
Nose guard Jose Barajas, a 240-lb. senior, especially had a good defensive game for the Grizzlies. He had eight tackles, two for losses, and also came through with a quarterback sack and blocked an extra-point kick.
Sunnyside cornerback Leo Cuellar, likewise a senior, was in on nine tackles. Adrian Ramirez, a 200-lb. junior who plays outside linebacker, led all Grizzly tacklers with 10 stops, one of those for a loss of yardage.
Friday's homecoming victory over Davis squares Sunnyside's CBBN conference record at 2-2.
The Grizzlies face a stiffer challenge this coming Friday, however, when the Wenatchee Panthers roll into Sunnyside. Wenatchee, off to a 6-0 start, is ranked in the top five among all 4A teams in the state, and features a running back that has already rushed for 900 yards this season.
"They have a huge line and run the ball well," Marro said of the Panthers.
The game plan, Marro said, will be to load the box with at least eight defenders in an attempt to slow down Wenatchee's running attack. "We're going to try to make them throw the ball to beat us," he said.
RUSHING - (Davis) Mitchell Vinser 20-123, Deion Wright 7- -12, Anthony Corbray 3-5. (S'side) Andrew Daley 5- -18, Victor Rios 10-28, Israel Manzo 15-115, Ryan Hernandez 1-1.
PASSING - (Davis) Deion Wright 12-123-1-167. (S'side) Andrew Daley 7-23-2-86, Israel Manzo 1-1-0-3.
RECEIVING - (Davis) Mitchell Vinser 1-13, Cooper Kupp 4-90, Nick Rodriguez 2-18, Jackson Marquis 3-24, Chris Chapman 2-11. (S'side) Jose Chavez 1-15, Leo Cuellar 2-21, Victor Rios 1-3, Israel Manzo 3-41, Ryan Hernandez 1-9.