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Close encounters of a third kind

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Sunnyside's Marcus Sanchez plows ahead for positive yards in last Friday's game against visiting Kennewick. He rushed for 13 yards on five carries against the Lions. The Grizzlies dropped their third consecutive heartbreaker in the closing seconds, falling to 1-3 overall on the season.

Three for three - that's where the Sunnyside Grizzlies stand in terms of coming up on the short end of the stick in hang-on-to-your-seat, nail-biting, down-to-the-wire affairs the last three weeks on the gridiron.

The latest heartbreaking loss for the Sunnyside High football team occurred last Friday. Visiting Kennewick stormed back in the final three minutes of the game, using the bull-rushing efforts of Devvin Ramos to piece together a come-from-behind, game winning drive that allowed the Lions to escape town with an 18-13 victory.

Sunnyside, just a week prior, dropped a 25-19 decision to the state's eighth ranked 3A team when Kamiakin scored on the final play of the game. The previous week the Grizzlies gave Southridge everything the Kennewick-area team could handle, only to see the Suns pull out a 25-21 win in the waning minutes.

Besides giving up the lead late to the Lions this past Friday and sustaining yet another disappointing loss, Sunnyside - for all intents and purposes - saw its hopes of advancing to the 3A State playoffs squashed. Yet to play a match-up in the Columbia Basin Big Nine, which is made up of 3A Sunnyside and the five 4A schools of Eisenhower, Davis, Eastmont, Moses Lake and Wenatchee, the route to the postseason for the Grizzlies rested on their early non-league schedule against the 3A teams from the Tri-Cities' Mid-Columbia Conference. Without a win to show for their strong efforts thus far this fall, and with only 3A Hanford remaining on their non-league schedule, the Grizzlies have no realistic shot at earning a playoff spot.

"Making the playoffs, that part of our season may be over," said Sunnyside Coach Mark Marro. "But the way it's set up, we still have the opportunity to play for the Big Nine League title."

And based on how the 3A teams have fared against the larger 4A schools early on this fall, Sunnyside could very well be in the mix for the Big Nine championship.

Before the Grizzlies jump into Big Nine play, though, they still have one 3A non-league game remaining...this coming Friday at Hanford. The Falcons may prove to be the toughest test Sunnyside will have encountered so far, as Hanford has posted a 3-1 record, its most recent win a 20-17 decision over 4A Walla Walla.

Hanford's players, said Marro, are big and physical, and they rely on running back Jalen Devine, who rushed for 250 yards last Friday against Walla Walla.

In hosting Kennewick last Friday the Grizzlies went into the game missing two of its starters because of injuries...QB Eduardo Salmeron and two-way starter Brandon Daley. Three plays into the game Sunnyside also lost another key two-way starter, Eric Amaro.

Despite playing with several back-ups, the Grizzlies went toe-for-toe with the Lions.

Marro said he was impressed with not only how the regular starters stepped up their games, but with how the reserves stared down adversity and delivered when it came to crunch time.

"Our kids played phenomenally," he said, noting the Grizzly defensive unit especially rose to the occasion.

"Defensively, we gave ourselves a shot to win this thing," he said, noting his club came up with one interception and forced two fumbles. Sunnyside's defenders also held Kennewick QB Dylan Tennacourt to just 54 yards passing on 4-of-15 throwing numbers.

Marro said he was especially pleased with the play of defensive tackle/offensive guard Austin Carmen, only a junior.

On the offensive side of the line big kudos are being given out by the Grizzly coaching staff to junior Ramon Hernandez. He toted the pigskin 17 times for 66 toughly contested yards.

"All of those yards Ramon got were hard-earned yards," said Marro.

Through the air, Sunnyside back-up quarterback Eddie Gonzalez did everything asked of him. Having come up through the ranks as the signal caller for Sunnyside's freshman and JV squads, Gonzalez connected with his receivers on 8-of-17 tosses for a total of 74 yards, which included a 20-yard scoring strike to Joseph Contreras, which got the Grizzlies a 13-12 lead late in the third quarter.

"He (Eddie) performed great," said Marro. "He's familiar with and knows the plays we run. He might not have the arm strength of our regular QB, but Eduardo was in the same boat in terms of arm strength as a junior."

Kennewick opened the scoring last Friday when Jesse Salazar picked off a first-quarter Gonzalez pass, one of two interceptions the back-up QB had on the night, and returned it 10 yards for a TD.

Later in the opening period, on a specially designed wildcat-type play, wideout Trey Serl was pitched the ball and rolled out, only to stop and fire up a 23-yard TD pass to Contreras, the first of his two touchdown catches last Friday. The ensuing extra-point kick by Thomas Waywell gave Sunnyside a 7-6 lead.

The Lions re-established the lead early on in the second quarter. Tennacourt hooked up with Ben Rutledge for a 13-yard TD pass, which was the only catch of the night for Rutledge. The Lions again missed the extra point kick, however, and ended up going into halftime with a 12-7 lead.

Neither club could find pay dirt in the third quarter.

Sunnyside got its engine revved up in the final quarter, though, capping off a come-from-behind drive with the 20-yard touchdown pass from Gonzalez to Contreras with three minutes remaining on the clock. A missed two-point conversion attempt left the Grizzlies clinging to a 13-12 lead.

The Lions, in a last gas attempt, decided to feed the ball to their primary ball carrier, Ramos, who up until that point had just 73 rushing yards. He bulled his way down the field in the closing moments, picking up a total of 65 yards on that final march. Facing a 4th-and-4 from Sunnyside's 7-yard line, Kennewick went back to Ramos, who scampered off-tackle and found the end zone for the game winning score.

"As well as we played, I think there at the end we just wore down," Marro said of his team's final defensive stand.

"I can't fault our effort," he added. "The kids are giving everything they have and working extremely hard."

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