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Season-ending shootout falls Rams' way

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West Valley wide receiver Braydon Shields is hauled down from behind last night by Sunnyside defensive back Joseph Contreras, after a gain of seven yards.

Some of the Grizzly faithful thought West Valley's 22-12 victory on its home field back in mid-September against the visiting Sunnyside High School football team was a fluke. Turns out, it wasn't.

The Rams backed up that Columbia Basin Big Nine League win by making off with a 46-38 shootout victory on the Grizzlies' home field last night.

Thursday evening's prep football contest was a crossover game, basically a meaningless affair that's designed to round out a 10-game schedule for high school teams that haven't qualified for the State playoffs. Both the Rams and Grizzlies had finished 2-5 in conference play, one win shy of advancing to the postseason. The second victory of the season for West Valley over the stubborn Sunnyside bunch, however, leaves the Upper Valley team with a final 4-6 mark for 2011, while the Grizzlies have to settle for an overall record of 3-7 this fall.

A surprisingly large crowd was on hand last night to watch the two teams, considering both clubs were going to be hanging up their helmets and pads for the season following the action on the field. What should have been an anti-climactic affair, however, turned into a barn burner that time and again brought the crowd on both sides of the field to its feet.

And justifiably so...as there were eight lead changes in the game.

The last came with Sunnyside clinging to a 38-31 lead, early in the final quarter. West Valley QB Zach Bissell, who was just 5-for-9 on the night although he made the most of those passes by tallying 178 yards through the air, found wideout Oliver Devlin, who turned the reception into a 33-yard scoring strike.

For Devlin, it was his only catch of the game. The TD drew the Rams to within 38-37 of Sunnyside. Instead of opting for the tying PAT, though, West Valley went for the two-point conversion. Bissell handed off to running back Cody LaRiviere, who bulled his way past the Grizzly defenders into the end zone, giving his team a 39-38 advantage.

The Rams tacked on an insurance score on their next possession, with 7:33 remaining on the clock, via a 40-yard breakaway run by Max King, who led all West Valley ball carriers on the night with 121 yards on 12 totes. It was King's second touchdown of the game, the first coming midway through the second quarter on a four-yard burst.

The host Grizzlies grabbed the early lead last night, but surprisingly it came from one of the most unlikely candidates to score. West Valley had the ball but was pinned deep in its own territory. Sunnyside forced a fumble, and it was sophomore Austin Carman, a 230-lb. defensive lineman, who scooped up the loose pigskin and rumbled five yards to pay dirt.

Following a game-tying four-yard touchdown run by LaRiviere, who netted 106 rushing yards on 24 carries last night for West Valley, Sunnyside went into attack mode.

With a minute still remaining in the opening quarter, senior Israel Manzo found his stride and popped in the first of two TD's he would score on the night. His opening score came on a three-yard run.

A quick turnover on the Rams' side of the field then resulted, just 17 seconds later, with junior Ramon Hernandez rumbling 40 yards into the end zone. Manzo's third consecutive point-after kick gave the home team a 21-7 lead.

King brought the Rams to within 21-15 of Sunnyside at about the halfway point of the second quarter. After a four-yard scoring run he added a two-point conversion.

West Valley snatched the lead with 3:11 remaining in the opening half, on a LaRiviere three-yard run. His two-point conversion scamper put the visitors up 23-21.

Sunnyside, though, refused to fold and immediately went back to work. Using the last few minutes on the clock to perfection, the Grizzlies advanced the pigskin deep into West Valley territory, setting up a 22-yard field goal by Manzo that came with just two seconds left before intermission. The successful boot through the uprights gave the Grizzlies a 24-23 halftime lead.

The Rams regained the lead early on in the third quarter on a quick-strike, 85-yard TD toss from Bissell to Ronnie Roosendaal. LaRiviere's two-point conversion run put West Valley up 31-24.

"Basically, yeah, we over-committed on the run on that long passing play," said Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro. "The Rams ran the ball real well all night. It's kind of a double-edged sword...you start playing to stop the run and sometimes you get burned somewhere else."

After an exchange of possessions, the Grizzlies found themselves pinned on their own 7-yard line. As has become his trademark, though, Manzo found a bit of daylight and was off to the races, speeding 93 yards down the field for a TD. The score got Sunnyside to within 31-30 of the visitors.

The 93-yard scoring run by Manzo tied the Sunnyside school record for the longest scoring run ever.

The workhorse Manzo finished as the game's leading rusher, tallying 257 yards on 26 carries. He also went 1-for-1 through the air, completing a 39-yard pass.

Forcing West Valley to turn the ball over on the ensuing possession, the Grizzlies went right back to work, driving the field to set up a three-yard scoring run by Hernandez, his second touchdown in the contest. A two-point conversion pass from QB Eduardo Salmeron to Manzo gave Sunnyside a 38-31 lead.

The junior Hernandez ended up picking his way through the West Valley defense for 77 rushing yards on just six handoffs from Salmeron.

The first-year starting signal caller didn't have his best performance of the season last night for Sunnyside, as Salmeron completed just 4-of-15 passes for 28 yards and was picked once in the process.

To be fair, said Marro, Salmeron was facing heavy pressure all night long from West Valley. "Usually there were nine or more guys in the box. He was having to avoid a pretty big rush," said Marro.

The Rams kept Sunnyside out of the end zone after Hernandez's final score of the night, that coming with a minute remaining in the third quarter. The Bissell-to-Devlin TD pass and King's 40-yard breakaway score in the fourth period accounted for the final 46-38 outcome.

"It was a battle of offenses," said Marro. "Obviously, we would have liked the outcome to have been different, but I think everyone got their money's worth."

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