LEWISTON, IDAHO - Oh, so close! The Sunnyside Grizzly football team nearly notched its first win of the season last Friday. In the end, though, the Lewiston Bengals came up with a huge defensive play and held on for a 28-24 victory.
The Grizzlies were marching down the field in the closing minutes with the potential game-winning drive, only to have the Bengals pick off a Sunnyside pass seven yards from pay dirt.
The plan, said Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro, was to eat up the remaining minutes on the clock and punch in the winning touchdown on that final drive with no time left.
"It was one of those games where it was going to come down to whoever had the ball last," Marro said.
The Grizzlies were executing to perfection in their final march on the Lewiston field, advancing the ball to the Bengal 20-yard line. Unfortunately for Sunnyside, Lewiston's Erik Reyes stepped in front of an Andrew Daley pass at the 7-yard line and came up with the pick, one of two interceptions the Grizzly QB had on the night.
For Sunnyside (0-2, 0-4), the non-league loss to the Bengals took some of the luster off the career-best, 256-yard rushing performance of Danny Almeida.
Marro said he's not sure where Almeida's effort ranks in the Sunnyside record books, "...but I'm pretty sure it's in the top five for single-game rushing yards."
Marro went on to say that Almeida couldn't have turned in a stronger effort last Friday.
"The o-line was punching some good holes for him, but Danny was doing a lot of it on his own," said Marro. "He was carrying people on his back, always falling forward."
The fatigue of a five-hour bus ride to Lewiston didn't faze the Grizzlies, as they jumped out to an early lead on the Bengals, who were one of Idaho's top ranked 5A teams last season.
Daley got Sunnyside on the scoreboard first when he hooked up with Israel Manzo on an eight-yard TD pass. Manzo's extra-point kick put the Grizzlies up 7-0 with less than three minutes burned off the clock.
Lewiston wasted little time in responding. The home team took the ball on the ensuing drive down the field, capping off the quick march with a 27-yard scoring run by Tyler Johnson. He ended up as the Bengals' top runner on the night, gaining 87 yards on 17 carries.
Miscues by Sunnyside's special teams gave Lewiston short fields with which to work, and the Bengals took advantage. They added two more first-quarter TD's to go up on Sunnyside, 21-7.
Those two scoring strikes came from the fingertips of Bengal QB Justin Podrabsky, who the day before signed a letter of intent to play quarterback for the Idaho Vandals. Podrabsky's first touchdown toss, an eight-yarder, went to Conner Imel. Following a block of a Sunnyside punt, Podrabsky then found John Rake with a 15-yard TD lob to give Lewiston a two-touchdown lead.
To the Grizzlies' credit, they weren't about to give up the ghost.
Sunnyside closed the gap to 21-14 when Manzo, a running back, tossed a nine-yard scoring strike to Victor Rios. With under three minutes remaining in the opening half, Sunnyside knotted the score at 21-all when Almeida scampered 12 yards from the line of scrimmage into the end zone.
"I'm real proud of our kids coming back from that 21-7 deficit," said Marro.
The Grizzlies retook the lead, 24-21, late in the third quarter, on a Manzo 31-yard field goal.
Lewiston had several opportunities to regain the lead, but a couple of defensive stands by the Grizzlies inside their own 10-yard line kept the Bengals at bay.
That is, until Podrabsky connected with Rake again halfway through the fourth quarter. The second TD toss from Podrabsky to Rake, the latter an 18-yarder, got the Bengals the lead back at 28-24.
Sunnyside went back to work, using the legs of Almeida to methodically drive down the field, only to have the final drive end with a turnover.
Of the 60 offensive plays run by the Grizzlies, 48 of them were runs. Almeida accounted for 26 of those rushes, with Manzo getting 12 totes for a total of 38 yards. Rios rushed the ball seven times for six yards. Passing-wise, Daley was 2-for-11.
Marro said the Bengal defenders manned up well against his club, which didn't allow a lot of time for Daley to throw the ball.
Besides, said Marro, the Grizzlies were pretty much able to run at will between the tackles, so he had no problem with keeping the ball on the ground.
Marro said defensively his club played well last Friday, noting the Grizzlies intercepted the Division I recruit Podrabsky three times.
In looking ahead to this coming Friday's league game at 4A Pasco, Marro said the Bulldogs pose a tough challenge. "Pasco has a strong team, but our showing in Lewiston gives us confidence we can play with Pasco," he said.
"And, we're looking forward to a shorter road trip. We've been on the road for quite awhile," he said, noting that the Pasco game will be the fourth away game in five outings thus far this season.
RUSHING - (S'side) Andrew Daley 3- -15, Victor Rios 7-6, Israel Manzo 12-38, Danny Almeida 26-256. (Lewiston) Justin Podrabsky 6-8, Tyler Johnson 17-87, Ridge Meachum 1-4.
PASSING - (S'side) Andrew Daley 2-11-2-64, Israel Manzo 1-1-0-9. (Lewiston) Justin Podrabsky 17-27-3-212.
RECEIVING - (S'side) James Sanchez 1-56, Victor Rios 1-9, Israel Manzo 1-8. (Lewiston) Conner Imel 7-88, John Rake 5-63, Beau Kerns 4-34, Camden Bernatz 1-27.