Where to start? Selecting the performances of one or two athletes, or one or two plays, as defining moments that carried Sunnyside past Moses Lake's football team doesn't do justice to the overall team effort the Grizzlies turned in last Friday.
Bottom line...Sunnyside rallied from behind four different times to turn away the visiting 4A Chiefs, 27-24. The stunning comeback victory was made even sweeter because it came in the 3A Grizzlies' homecoming game, which also served as Sunnyside's Columbia Basin Big Nine League opener.
In knocking off the Chiefs, who slipped to 3-2 in conference play and 3-3 overall, Sunnyside snapped a four-game slide in which three of those losses came on heartbreaking plays by their opponents in the waning moments.
If you had to pick one Sunnyside player who served as the catalyst in the Grizzlies' win last Friday, the nod probably would go to QB Eduardo Salmeron.
Last week in a 26-0 loss at Hanford, coming off an ailment that had kept him out of most of the two previous games, the senior had trouble shaking off the rust. Last Friday against Moses Lake, Salmeron was anything but rusty. A scrambling quarterback with above average speed who's not afraid to run, and who possesses good arm strength, Salmeron ended up as Sunnyside's leading rusher, toting the pigskin 14 times for 71 yards. He also went to the air and threw for 163 yards on 9-of-14 passing, without turning the ball over.
Salmeron, too, ran in two of the four touchdowns the Grizzlies had on the night, including the game winner that came with under a minute to play.
"That last TD was big," admitted SHS Coach Mark Marro.
Trailing 24-20 with just over four minutes left, Marro said the game plan was to have his Grizzlies chew up as much time off the clock as they could while executing the plays with which they were most familiar. Sunnyside methodically moved down the field, advancing into the red zone and finally pushing as far as the Moses Lake 5.
With a timeout called, Marro pulled his troops together and "...we told the kids we were going with what we do best."
That proved to be a play action rollout by Salmeron, who first eyed the end zone for an open receiver, then tucked the ball away and scampered in from the Moses Lake-5 with 50 seconds showing on the clock.
The ensuing extra point kick off the foot of Thomas Waywell boosted Sunnyside's lead to three, pretty big considering the Chiefs nearly got within field goal distance on their final quick-strike march down the field.
Any hope Moses Lake had to knot the game up and send it into overtime ended with a thud, however. Senior DB Joseph Contreras read a pass play that was designed for the receiver to haul in the ball near the sideline and step out-of-bounds. Contreras broke on the out-ball and stepped in front of the receiver, snagging the pigskin from the air for a pick. With just 11 seconds remaining, all Sunnyside had to do was take a kneel-down to preserve the 27-24 win.
The Grizzlies had another big interception in the game, too. Early on, Moses Lake was threatening to blow the contest wide open, driving deep into Sunnyside territory on the verge of taking a two-score lead. Junior defensive back Marcus Sanchez thwarted the Chiefs from scoring in the red zone, though, picking off a pass and returning it 15 yards out to the Sunnyside 30-yard line.
"If not for that pick by Marcus, it could have turned into a back-breaker for us," Marro said.
Sunnyside got several other outstanding defensive performances in their win over the Chiefs. Austin Carmen, a defensive tackle, was the first to come to mind when Marro was queried on who stood out for the Grizzlies in keeping the Chiefs in check.
"Austin came up big in taking away Moses Lake's inside runs," said the SHS head coach.
Marro, too, said junior Shawn Christensen performed above and beyond from his linebacker's position; and was quick to mention the efforts of defensive end Eric Amaro.
"Eric's biggest play of the game, probably, was a key sack he got on that final drive by Moses Lake," said Marro.
Marro also indicated he'd be extremely neglectful in not mentioning the halftime adjustment that his defensive coach, Tyler Miller, made. Switching the Grizzlies to a "college 4-3" defensive alignment, Sunnyside limited the Chiefs to just one score after intermission, and in the process cut the yardage Moses Lake tallied in the opening half to about half that total the final two quarters.
The college 4-3 alignment, explained Marro, is designed to take away the opposing team's inside run game.
"Basically, we shift our outside linebackers inside of our defensive ends," Marro said.
The opening half Moses Lake, operating a triple option offensive attack from the shotgun, exploited the middle of the field with run after run right up the gut. The defensive change allowed Sunnyside to stuff the box, forcing the Chiefs to try and get to the outside or to pass on the Grizzlies. That played into Sunnyside's strength, as the Grizzlies bent a bit but never gave up anything big on any one play.
Due largely to moving almost at will in the first half, Moses Lake posted some pretty decent offensive numbers. The Chiefs' go-to guy, QB Justin Simmons, rushed for 159 yards on 18 totes, and completed 14-of-22 passes for another 160 yards. Moses Lake also got a 37-yard rushing performance on 11 carries by Cameron Law. Scoring-wise for the visitors, Simmons tallied all three of their touchdowns, two on the ground and one through the air, a 61-yard bomb to Brett Moser.
Offensively for Sunnyside, besides the two TD's Salmeron ran for, the Grizzlies received a two-touchdown performance from running back Ramon Hernandez. With 63 yards on the ground on 13 carries, Hernandez's first score came on a two-yard burst, which gave Sunnyside a 7-3 lead. His second TD came early in the fourth quarter, on a five-yard run, which rallied the Grizzlies from a 17-13 deficit and put his club up by three points.
Salmeron targeted five different receivers in going 9-for-14 for Sunnyside, four of them hauling in two passes each. The leading wideout, in terms of big gainers, proved to be Contreras with two catches for 67 yards. Also with two receptions apiece were Brandon Daley, Sanchez and Hernandez.
Sunnyside (1-0, 2-4) this coming Friday treks to Eastmont, which has already played five league games and is 4-1 in conference play.
Marro said the Wildcats have a good quarterback and are very adept at moving the ball on the ground. He also noted Eastmont is strong in stopping the run, which Marro said means Salmeron may be asked to throw a bit more than usual, particularly in looking for dump-off passes.
Overall, Marro said, he believes his Grizzlies match up pretty well with the 'Cats in just about every area on the gridiron. Basically, he said, it comes down to following the game plan and executing.