KENNEWICK - The Sunnyside Grizzly football team suffered a second consecutive heartbreaking loss, this one to the Southridge Suns at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.
For the second straight week, after building an early lead on their opponents, the Grizzlies came up on the short end of the score when the final gun sounded. The Suns, down 19-7 at the half, rallied to clip visiting Sunnyside, 20-19.
Thursday evening's game was the Columbia Basin Big Nine 3A League opener for both clubs.
That Sunnyside was able to forge a lead on the Suns last night was a little bit surprising, considering the team's primary offensive threat, senior Steven Monterrey, went down with an injury on the first play of the game. In his place, though, junior running back Ramon Hernandez stepped up big. Hernandez bulled his way for a game-best 160 rushing yards on 23 totes.
The Grizzlies also received a nifty performance from first-year QB Eduardo Salmeron. He ran for 130 yards on 12 carries, most of those coming after being chased out of the pocket.
Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro said the offense is designed to roll Salmeron out. "If no one is open, he pulls it in and runs," said Marro.
The times Salmeron did find downfield receivers, he lofted passes to them that chewed up 106 yards through the air.
All told, Sunnyside had 394 yards of total offense, while limiting the Suns to 251 yards, 155 of those coming on the ground.
Southridge grabbed an early 7-0 advantage on a first-quarter TD toss from Matt Mendenhall to Josh Richards.
Sunnyside wasted little time in responding, answering right back with a TD of its own. The drive was capped with a short dive into the end zone by Salmeron. A two-point conversion gave the Grizzlies an 8-7 lead.
The Grizzlies increased their advantage to 16-7 in the second quarter, when Salmeron ran in another touchdown, followed by another 2-point conversion. A 30-yard field goal off the foot of Sergio Lugo sent Sunnyside into the locker room at halftime with what seemed like at the time a backbreaking 19-7 lead.
The Suns wasted no time in getting back into the contest, however, as Mendenhall and Richards hooked up again on a scoring strike on Southridge's opening drive of the second half. The PAT drew the Suns to within 19-14 of Sunnyside.
The Grizzlies kept Southridge away from the end zone for most of the rest of the second half, until the Suns pieced together what proved to be the winning drive in the final period. The league's top rusher, Kris Hauter, busted off a 4-yarder to pay dirt to account for the final 20-19 score.
The sad part for the Grizzlies, said Marro, is that Sunnyside put up better numbers than Southridge in all the offensive stats, except on the scoreboard.
Last week, Marro explained, the Grizzlies shut down the 4A Davis Pirates' high flying aerial attack, and last night held the league's top rushing team, Southridge, to just 155 yards while allowing the Suns less than 100 through the air.
Marro gives a lot of credit for his Grizzly defenders keeping both Davis and Southridge in check to Coach Tyler Miller.
"(Miller) has had our defense schemed out perfectly the last two weeks.
"Last night he had the defense set up in a 5-2, cover-4 with a man behind," said Marro.
Basically, said Marro, the story of the second half was field position. "Their punter buried us," he said, explaining that all of Sunnyside's second-half drives started from deep within its own territory, while the Suns often took possession of the ball from the mid-field area.
With Monterrey out of the line-up, who usually returns punts, the kicks often weren't getting caught while in mid-air. The ball would skip off the turf and by the time the return man came up with it, the Southridge players were deep into their coverage.
"Last week against Davis it might have been a case that we didn't finish them off well because of the fatigue factor. Last night, I don't believe that was the case. We just needed a good bounce, and didn't get it at the end," said Marro.
"At this level of play, it's difficult to keep putting together 80-plus yard drives," he said. "We'd move the ball 50 yards, but then have to give it up on downs.
"Honestly, we played phenomenal last night," Marro continued. "There is some heartbreak with the outcome, but we're going to have to fight through that."
Sunnyside (0-1, 1-2) next takes on the West Valley Rams on Friday, Sept. 23, on the Grizzlies' home field.