TOUCHET - The Touchet Indians put forth their best defensive effort of the season here Saturday afternoon in a wind-blown, sometimes-drizzly District 7/9 8-man prep football playoff game against Cusick.
Good thing, too, because an Indians' offense that did most of the heavy lifting during a 7-2 regular season endured two quarters of complete futility before regrouping at halftime.
Trailing 6-0 at the intermission, the home team scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half and rallied for a 28-20 victory over the visiting Panthers.
Now it's on to Spokane either Friday or Saturday for a date with No. 1-ranked Almira-Coulee-Hartline. The Warriors improved to 11-0 and reached the quarterfinals on Thursday with a 64-24 victory over Wilbur-Creston in Coulee City.
"They are the top dog to beat," Indians coach Gary Dorman said of his team's next opponent. "Traditionally they have good teams and good athletes. We will have to have a complete game to beat them, not two different halves."
The Indians managed just 41 yards of total offense in the first half of Saturday's game, and 24 of those came on the final play of the second quarter when senior Eric Hines broke a 24-yard run on a reverse play.
But it was a different story after the break as junior running back Jose Martinez rushed for 89 of his game-high 95 yards and sophomore quarterback Elias Martinez capped two of his team's scoring drives with 4-yard runs and also connected with Hines on a 19-yard score.
"They did some things defensively that we did not expect," Dorman said in trying to explain his team's first-half offensive ineptness. And when you've got a 6-foot-5, 300-pound guy (Cusick senior nose guard Johnny Andrews) in the middle, it can be disruptive. It took us some time to figure out what would work."
There was no halftime tongue-lashing for motivational purposes, Dorman insisted.
"None at all," the coach said. "We've been a slow-starting team most of the year, and that second quarter was probably our worst quarter of the year. But the kids didn't want their season to end today, and the seniors and juniors did a good job at halftime of instilling that refuse to lose mentality.
"We made a few minor adjustments. A block here, a block there. That was it."
The Indians got the ball to begin the second half, and after a short kick and a personal foul penalty for unnecessary roughness, Touchet found itself in business at the Cusick 35-yard line. Six plays later, Elias Martinez found the end zone for the first time and the Indians were on the scoreboard.
Touchet forced a quick three-and-out and took advantage of Cusick's second short punt of the game to begin its second drive of the half once again at the Panthers' 35. Another six-play drive and another 4-yard Elias Martinez TD spurt put the Indians on top to stay.
Cusick then drove from its own 27-yard-line to the Indians 6 on its next possession. But on fourth-and-goal, Touchet senior defensive end Ty Garbe led a jail-break pass rush and sacked Panthers QB Ryan Sample on his 14 to thwart the potential scoring drive.
From there, Touchet drove 86 yards on 13 plays to take a 20-6 lead. Cory Ochoa's 44-yard run was the long play on the drive, but Hines' 19-yard scoring catch in which he tipped the ball to himself not once but twice was the clincher.
It was one five catches for 64 yards in the game for Hines, who also made a 23-yard grab during the same drive in which he and a Cusick defender hit the turf in a dual-possession scrum for the ball.
"That second was definitely the better catch," Hines said of his bobble-grab as he twisted and spun into the end zone. "That's got to be No. 1 for the whole season."
Hines, one of the seniors who helped motivate his team at halftime, blamed his team's first-half struggles on the game's playoff atmosphere.
"We're just not used to being in the playoffs - it's been awhile," Hines said. "In the second half, we came out and played better. We executed."
Cusick made it a one-possession game again with 5:39 remaining in the game when Sample scored his second TD of the game. But it took the Indians eight plays to drive 58 yards for their fourth consecutive touchdown as Jose Martinez crashed into the end zone from a yard out and Elias Martinez hit Ochoa for the two-pointer and a 28-12 lead.
Sample's 20-yard touchdown pass to Alec Bluff and his two-point run drew the Panthers back to within 28-20 with 1:01 remaining. But sophomore Ruben Butler, a member of the Indians' hands team on kickoff returns, leaped high to snare Cusick's onside kick and Touchet was able to run out the clock.
So chalk one up for a Touchet defense that limited the Panthers to 128 yards rushing and 133 via the pass.
"I thought defensively we had a good idea of what Cusick was going to do, and I thought our kids carried out their assignments extremely well," Dorman said. "I really have to give kudos to Matt Shute for his play at defensive tackle. He really took a lot of their run game away from them and played an outstanding game for us."
On a nasty day when the defense came to the rescue, the 185-pound Shute was credited with 19 tackles, two of them for negative yardage.
Touchet 28, Cusick 20
Cusick 0 6 0 14 - 20
Touchet 0 0 14 14 - 28
Cus - Sample 4 run (pass failed).
Tou - E. Martinez 4 run (run failed).
Tou - E. Martinez 4 run (E. Martinez run).
Tou - Hines 19 pass from E. Martinez (pass failed).
Cus - Sample 2 run (run failed).
Tou - J. Martinez 1 run (Ochoa pass from E. Martinez).
Cus - Bluff 20 pass from Sample (Sample run).
First downs 11 12
Rushes/yards 36-128 41-199
Passing yards 133 72
Passes (att-comp-int) 19-9-0 14-6-1
Punts 4-19 3-25
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 10-72 6-46
RUSHING - Cusick: Piengkham
12-51, Sample 17-55, Peterson 3-4, Bluff 2-9, Sears 2-9; Touchet: J. Martinez 23-95, Flores 1-0, E. Martinez 7-10, Preciado 6-21, McKeown 1-(-1), Hines 2-29, Ochoa 1-44.
PASSING - Cusick: Sample 9-17-0, 133 yards, 1 touchdown. Touchet: E. Martinez 6-14-1, 72 yards, 1 touchdown.
RECEIVING - Cusick: Bluff 4-56-1, Andrews 1-6-0, Cutshall 2-45-0, Peterson 1-25-0, Sears 1-1-0; Touchet: Hines 5-64-1, J. Martinez 1-8-0.