That soft glow of a light the Grizzlies could still see at the end of the tunnel heading into last Friday night's Homecoming game is still flickering.
Thanks to a four-touchdown performance by senior Israel Manzo, which sparked the Sunnyside High School football team to a dominating 40-16 blowout of the Pasco Bulldogs, the Grizzlies' playoff hopes are still on life support.
Friday's Homecoming victory, Sunnyside's first win in CBBN 3A league action after opening conference play with three consecutive losses, surprisingly leaves the Grizzlies just one game back of the two teams currently tied for the fourth and final playoff berth. And, both of those teams - Eastmont and Hanford - have yet to face Sunnyside this season.
Granted, the Grizzlies (1-3, 2-4) must take on the state's third-ranked and unbeaten Kamiakin Braves (4-0, 6-0) this coming Friday before meeting up with Eastmont (2-2, 2-4) and Hanford (2-2, 2-4). But even if Sunnyside loses to the prohibitive favorites, wins over the Wildcats and Falcons to close out the regular season would put the Grizzlies smack dab in the middle of what could be a scrambled playoff picture that league officials would have to sort out.
Adding to the confusion of it all are the West Valley Rams (1-3, 2-4), who like Sunnyside needs to win at least two of their three remaining league games to have a shot at qualifying for the postseason.
Sunnyside, however, may have an advantage over the three other teams it is battling for that fourth and final playoff spot. The emergence of Manzo last Friday night, who was making just his second appearance of the season, could be the lift the Grizzlies need to get the job done.
Although diminutive in size, at just 5'7" and 160 lbs., Manzo showed in Friday's Homecoming game that he's the type of spark that could put the Grizzlies over the top.
The senior staked Sunnyside to an early 6-0 lead over the visiting Bulldogs by booting two field goals through the uprights, on attempts of 30 and 28 yards, respectively.
After giving up a 26-yard field goal to Pasco's Ryan Gibson, which drew the Bulldogs to within 6-3 at about the halfway point of the second quarter, the tailback Manzo notched the first of his four touchdowns by hauling in a pass from QB Eduardo Salmeron out in the right flat, turning it into a 28-yard score. Manzo's PAT with 5:11 remaining in the half put Sunnyside up 13-3.
After a defensive stop, Salmeron got in on his second touchdown of the night, increasing the Grizzlies' lead to 19-3 by capping off a drive with a four-yard scramble into the end zone.
With under two minutes to go before intermission, Pasco elected not to sit on the ball. BIG MISTAKE! From its own 32-yard line, Pasco QB Sean McNiel spotted a downfield target. Manzo, playing DB, stepped in front of the pass, though, and snagged it. He was then off to the races, sprinting to pay dirt. The ensuing PAT off the foot of Manzo gave the Grizzlies what proved to be an insurmountable 26-3 lead.
For McNiel, the pick turned out to be just one of four interceptions he served up on the night. Sophomore Marcus Sanchez had one of them, and Sunnyside junior Joseph Contreras came up with the other two picks.
Any hope the Pasco faithful may have had of their Bulldogs pulling out a come-from-behind win was dashed on Sunnyside's opening drive of the second half. Manzo busted off a 48-yard run to the end zone, and with his successful PAT, the Grizzlies were up 33-3.
Sunnyside forced Pasco to punt the ball away on the ensuing drive. Manzo, who else, drifted underneath the falling pigskin, hauled it in and was off to the races. He sped 77 yards for his fourth and final touchdown of the night. A Sergio Lugo kick for the PAT gave the Grizzlies a 40-3 advantage.
With more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter at that point, Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro began substituting freely. Playing against the Grizzly reserves, Pasco was able to cut the deficit to the final 40-16 score.
Statistically, Sunnyside put up 327 yards of total offense, compared to the 291 yards tallied by the Bulldogs.
Pasco's leading rusher was Clifton Lozano Jr., who toted the ball 30 times for 164 yards. Sunnyside ran the ball for 198 yards, although the 35 rushing attempts were spread out among eight ball carriers. Manzo ended up as the Grizzlies' leading rusher with 91 yards on eight carries. Sunnyside also received a 49-yard rushing performance from Sanchez, who took nine handoffs from the QB Salmeron, and the Grizzly quarterback broke free from the pocket seven times and turned those runs into 46 positive yards.
Passing-wise, Salmeron was 8-for-14 for 129 yards, with just one interception. McNiel went 12-for-22 through the air for 135 yards, although he was picked four times.
McNiel's favorite target was Josh Hagen, who hauled in four passes for 65 yards.
Manzo had three receptions for a total of 80 yards, with Contreras snagging two of Salmeron's passes for a total of 26 yards. Four other Sunnyside receivers had one catch apiece.
The Grizzlies, back on their home turf for a second straight week, take on the undefeated and high flying Kamiakin Braves this coming Friday.