TOUCHET - This was one weird football game.
On one side of the field was undefeated Liberty Christian, all pumped up and nowhere to go. Across the way was Touchet, still calculating its playoff possibilities and not particularly interested in its Thursday afternoon match against the visiting Patriots.
It was, after all, a non-counter in the Southeast 1B-8 League standings because Liberty Christian is technically a Class 2B-11 school. Due to a small turnout this fall, the Patriots opted to play down to the 8-man classification and were not eligible for postseason consideration.
That hardly diminished the enthusiasm of coach Mike Olson's players, however, as they rolled through the SE1B-8 with a 9-0 record, capped by Thursday's 72-40 victory over the Indians.
"These kids haven't had a lot of success on the football field in 11-man the last couple of years," Olson said prior to Thursday's kickoff. "I think we won five games in two years, and a couple of those were forfeits.
"So for these kids to go out this season undefeated, that's a big deal."
Touchet entered Thursday's game with a 5-3 overall mark and had already completed a 3-3 league campaign by winning do-or-die games against Garfield-Palouse and Pomeroy. But the Indians still needed some things to break their way Thursday night in order to force their way into the postseason.
Some did, and some didn't.
When Garfield-Palouse knocked off Colton 38-32 on the Wildcats' field, the Vikings claimed second place in the final league standings and dropped Colton into a tie with Touchet for third place. That was bad news since Colton defeated Touchet 34-18 last month and held the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Then Indians coach Gary Dorman learned that Pomeroy had ambushed league champion St. John-Endicott 60-50 on the Eagles' field. That was good news since Pomeroy now shared third place with the Indians and Wildcats.
Only one piece of the puzzle remained unplaced, and Dorman went to bed Thursday night confident that Lacrosse-Washtucna had won its game at last-place Sunnyside Christian and also claimed a share of third place in a league that sends its top three teams into the playoffs.
But early this morning the Indians coach received the ultimate downer. Sunnyside Christian defeated L-W 62-46 for its first and only league victory of the season.
"Are you kidding me?" Dorman asked in disbelief. "I can't believe that. I did not know that. I am shocked."
The three-way tie for third place between Colton, Touchet and Pomeroy is easily resolved since the Wildcats beat both the Indians and Pirates during the regular season. So Colton gets the third playoff ticket.
Had there been a four-way tie, a mini-playoff on Tuesday would have been required to break the tie since Touchet had defeated Pomeroy, the Pirates had defeated Lacrosse-Washtucna and the Tigercats had defeated Colton.
Instead, Sunnyside Christian's victory ends the season for Touchet, Pomeroy and Lacrosse-Washtucna.
"Well, doggone it," Dorman said. "That's just real disappointing. I've already told some of the kids this morning that we'll be watching film today. Now it looks like I'm going to have to teach."
Dorman said he was particularly disappointed because he thought his team "was just hitting its stride" with the return of sophomore receiver Vicente Flores, who was sidelined with an injury earlier in the season when the Indians lost consecutive games to St. John-Endicott, Colton and Lacrosse-Washtucna.
Flores returned to action last week at Pomeroy and caught nine passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-28 Touchet victory. Against Liberty Christian here Thursday, Flores had 15 receptions for 222 yards and two more scores.
"When you get an important kid back like that, it really changes the offense," Dorman said.
With backup quarterback Matt Kates playing the first three quarters, the Indians' passing attack was as effective as it has been all season. Kates completed 18-of-28 throws for 221 yards and three touchdowns before first-stringer Jake Hodnefield took over and hit on 7-of-8 passes for 85 yards and one TD.
"We wanted to give Matt some extra reps," Dorman said of Kates, who like Hodnefield is a senior who lines up at a receiver position when he is not under center. "We talked about it all week, hoping to prep for a playoff run, and it was a fun experience that worked out for us pretty darn well."
It was on defense where the Indians couldn't match up with the Patriots, who amassed 500 yards rushing and another 178 through the air.
Senior Zach Simpkins, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder, barrelled for 330 yards on 24 carries and 175-pound sophomore Reace Howard added another 118 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore quarterback Mike Olson completed 11-of-14 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to senior tight end Bryan Corrigan, who had five catches for 87 yards.
Dorman chose to play his defensive regulars sparingly throughout the game, which only compounded the Indians' size disparity.
Touchet loses two offensive starters - Hodnefield at quarterback and Joey Weber at center - and two defensive starters - Hodnefield at linebacker and JP Riggs at end - to graduation. Other seniors on the roster are Kates, Cody Jacobsen, Tyler Casebier, Merced Berumen and Rolando Flores.
"We'll miss all of those seniors," Dorman said. "The starters, of course, but also those who don't start because it is important to have a good practice squad."
Liberty Christian 22 22 14 14 - 72
Touchet 6 20 0 14 - 40
LC - Simpkins 15 run (Simpkins run).
LC - Corrigan 17 pass from Olson (run failed).
Tou - Flores 52 pass from Kates (kick failed).
LC - Simpkins 14 run (Corrigan pass from Olson).
Tou - Preciado 74 kickoff return (Flores kick).
LC - Howard 11 run (run failed).
Tou - Flores 21 pass from Kates (Flores kick).
LC - Simpkins 17 run (Simpkins run).
Tou - Hodnefield 14 pass from Kates (kick failed).
LC - Corrigan 11 pass from Olson (Howard run).
LC - Howard 33 run (Howard run).
LC - Corrigan 22 pass from Olson ( Morris pass from Olson).
LC - Hoye 3 run (pass failed).
Tou - Kates 6 pass from Hodnefield (Flores run).
LC - Hoye 22 pass from Olson (run failed).
Tou - Hodnefield 12 run (run failed)
First downs 31 16
Rushes/yards 50-500 14-4
Passing yards 178 306
Passes (att-comp-int) 14-11-0 36-25-0
Punts 0-0 0-0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 5-50 5-40
RUSHING - Liberty Christian: Simpkins 24-330, Hoy 8-40, Olson 5-12, Howard 13-118; Touchet: Kates 4-(-15), Contreras 1-(-5), Preciado 1-0, Hodnefield 7-37, Flores 1-(-13).
PASSING - Liberty Christian: Olson 11-14-0, 178 yards, 4 touchdowns. Touchet: Kates 18-28-0, 221 yards, 3 touchdowns; Hodnefield 7-8-0, 85 yards, 1 touchdown.
RECEIVING - Liberty Christian: Corrigan 5-87-3, Hoye 4-70-1, Lindquist 1-7-0, Simpkins 1-14-0; Touchet: Flores 15-222-2, Hines 3-11-0, Hodnefield 5-55-1, Kates 1-6-1, Preciado 1-12-0.
Southeast 1B-8 League
St. John-Endicott 5-1 7-2
Garfield-Palouse 4-2 5-4
Colton 3-3 4-6
Touchet 3-3 5-4
Pomeroy 3-3 4-6
Lacrosse-Washtucna 2-4 3-7
Sunnyside Christian 1-5 2-6
Liberty Christian 0-0 9-0
Pomeroy 60, St. John-Endicott 50
Garfield-Palouse 38, Colton 32
Sunnyside Christian 62, Lacrosse-Washtucna 46
Liberty Christian 72, Touchet 40
Regular Season Ends