Coughing up the ball four times in the second half, after playing near flawless football in the first two quarters, the Grizzlies let what appeared to be - early on – an awful good chance to pick up their first victory of the season slip away.
The Eastmont Wildcats, who like the Grizzlies were in search of their first Big Nine League win of the season last Friday, rallied down the stretch to clip Sunnyside, 35-21.
The four late takeaways the ‘Cats came up with against Sunnyside were the key to Eastmont rallying from a 21-14 halftime deficit.
“Overall, I thought we played well…heads up on both sides of the ball. But this one, the story was those late game turnovers,” said SHS Coach Mark Marro.
Friday’s loss at Sunnyside’s Clem Senn Field was even more disappointing, considering the Grizzlies piled up more offensive yardage than the visiting ‘Cats.
On the ground, Sunnyside netted 240 yards, due chiefly to the efforts of seniors Jesus Magallan and Marcus Sanchez. Magallan bulldozed his way to a 156-yard rushing performance, toting the pigskin a total of 19 times. Sanchez was given the ball 23 times, tallying 69 yards on the turf. One of those totes was good for a first-quarter, 2-yard plunge over the goal line.
Sunnyside’s success with running the ball was a direct result of bunching the Grizzlies’ older linemen together – at times to the right of center, other times to the left.
“They were creating some great holes for the running backs,” said Marro. “Some of the time they were just huge holes, big enough that I could have walked through them.”
The stalwarts on the O-line proved to be senior Ethan Partch and junior Zack Zamora. Aiding the blocking schemes considerably, too, were tight ends Isaac Palomino and Damon Hurst.
Sunnyside’s coaching staff made another adjustment for Friday’s game by installing a jumbo pack alignment, used for short yardage and red zone situations. Senior Mason Kupp, at 6’3” and 230 lbs., was pulled from the offensive line and converted to fullback. Another rugged, nearly 200-lb. senior, Sean Christensen, was inserted into the backfield.
Kupp and Christensen had their numbers called four times last Friday. With Kupp clearing out the deadwood as the lead blocker, Christensen snuggled in behind him and blasted his way for 24 rushing yards – two of those carries resulting in a pair of 1 and 2-yard bursts into the end zone for touchdowns.
In contrast, Eastmont only netted about half the rushing yardage the Grizzlies did. The workhorse for the ‘Cats was Brian Burt. He tallied 100 yards on the ground on just nine carries, and scored twice - including the game tying TD on Eastmont’s first possession of the second half. The rest of the Wildcats’ ball carriers managed just another 26 rushing yards.
Through the air, Eastmont held a slight advantage. Nick McGill made good on 8-of-17 passes for 134 yards. He tossed one touchdown pass, the final score of the game that put an exclamation point on the Wildcats’ victory.
Sunnyside QB Anthony Herrera, only a sophomore who is still working on coming into his own as the Grizzlies’ varsity signal caller, targeted his receivers 15 different times Friday. Only four of Herrera’s passes were on the mark, although one of them was a 62-yard catch-and-go hauled in by senior Elijah Pena. All told, Herrera threw for 104 yards.
Herrera’s downfall was the three interceptions he served up. The most costly proved to be a 27-yard pick-six, snagged and returned to pay dirt by Eastmont’s Christian Kinder. That score, coming early in the fourth quarter, snapped a 21-21 tie.
Another of the interception the Wildcats came up with killed a Sunnyside drive that had been advanced to the Eastmont 1-yard line.
The ‘Cats also snuffed another second-half Sunnyside drive by forcing a fumble, with the Grizzlies just five yards away from punching the ball over the goal line.
The final dagger the ‘Cats thrust into Sunnyside’s chances for a win came with the Grizzlies down by two TD’s. “They stopped us on downs with us on their 5-yard line,” Marro explained.
Despite falling to 0-2 in conference play, 0-7 overall on the season, Sunnyside has shown few signs that it’s ready to throw in the towel.
“The Moses Lake game two Fridays ago, we didn’t exactly step off the bus ready to play,” Marro admitted. “But other than that game, we haven’t seen any quit in the kids.
“They’ve got a goal to keep getting better each week. And with the senior leadership we have, that’s happening.
“Everyone – coaches and players - are together, working as a team.
“We don’t have any finger pointing going on. That’s one of the things that’s impressed me about these kids…their character. Everyone is together, it’s about team,” he said.
In looking ahead, things don’t get any easier for the 3A Grizzlies. They close out the season with games against 4A conference foes Davis, Eisenhower and Wenatchee.
The Pirates (2-5) are first up. That game is slated for this coming Friday on Davis’ home field. The Pirates are coming off a tough 17-8 loss at co-league leader Wenatchee. The Cadets (4-3), which were also on the road last Friday and dropped a 34-33 overtime decision to the league’s other co-leader, the Moses Lake Chiefs, will close out Sunnyside’s home stand on Friday, Nov. 1.