Indians' comeback a study in gridiron resilience

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PASCO — It appeared to be a bridge too far.

An uncharacteristic rash of Touchet turnovers coupled with a variety of Rosalia gadget play left the Indians in a 30-6 hole late in the second quarter here Saturday night in the Washington Class 1B state football semifinals. And it seemed there was no way out.

“There was one point in the huddle,” Touchet coach Gary Dorman recalled later, “when the guys looked at each other and one of them, I don’t remember who, said, ‘Wow, what has happened?’

“But you know what? There was never any sense of panic. I think it was more frustration and personal disappointment in those kids who were having issues.

“I was very impressed with their resilience, because that was the first time this season we have been handled like that. Everything we did was rust, and everything they did was gold.”

But then senior quarterback Elias Martinez, who has just suffered a pick-six on the Indians’ previous possession, engineered a quick-strike touchdown drive. He took the Touchet offense 63 yards in four plays, capped by a 31-yard TD pass to junior Colter McKeown with 2:02 on the second-quarter clock.

Leo Garcia ran for the two-point conversion, cutting the Spartans’ lead to 30-14 and there was a glimmer of hope on Touchet’s side of field.

That glimmer became a glow when the Indians’ defense forced a three-and-out deep in Rosalia’s end of the field. McKeown gathered in the Spartan punt on Rosalia’s 47-yard line and returned it to the 29 before he was brought down with 18.4 seconds showing.

Martinez dropped back to pass, gaged two Touchet receivers working the left side of the field, then tucked the ball and made a mad dash to the right corner of the end zone. His touchdown run cut the Spartans’ lead to 30-20 and the Indians headed to halftime reinvigorated, but with plenty to talk about.

“Mostly we talked about the things Rosalia was doing on offense that were giving us issues,” Dorman said.

The Spartans burned the Indians on big plays in the first half, several of which were double pitches. Quarterback Ryan Maley would take the center snap in shotgun formation, pitch to either Craig Nelson or Clay Shelton, who would in turn pitch to the other trailing the play.

In the first half alone, Nelson had runs of 71, 51 and 39 yards while Shelton had runs of 84 and 36 yards.

“We had never seen that double option before,” Dorman said. “Not when we played them early in the season and not in their quarterfinal game against Colton. It was something new, and they were doing it like they had been running it all year.

“Defensively, we changed who was taking the pitch man. We wanted to make the quarterback be the one carrying the ball because he was the lesser of three evils as far as we were concerned.”

The scheme worked.

Other than an 80-yard touchdown run by Nelson midway in the third quarter that enabled the Spartans to forge a 36-36 tie, Rosalia gained 18 yards total on 19 runs from scrimmage after the intermission. And Maley was intercepted three times once he was forced to go to the air.

Meanwhile, Touchet was cranking on all cylinders.

Martinez fired three more touchdown passes, Carlos Rincon returned a pass interception for a TD and Edgar Rincon and Colter McKeown ran for scores as the Indians won going away.

It became clear that Rosalia had neither the talent nor the depth to keep up with an Indians squad blessed with more of both. The Spartans were reduced to grabbing and holding and late hits that resulted in 14 penalties that cost them 144 yards.

“We talked during the week that his might be their method of play,” Dorman said. “Watching them against Colton, they had nine big penalties in the first half.

“I was never impressed with their defense. We knew we could beat them with the pass, it was just a matter of when do we start doing it.”

Now it’s on to the Gridiron Classic where Touchet meets Neah Bay Friday afternoon at 4 in the Tacoma Dome in the Class 1B state championship game. Dorman can only hope the momentum his team gained late in the second half here Saturday will carry over until then.

“We just kept telling them, one play at a time, one series at a time, one score at a time. I always believed things would change.

“And never once did any of our players look over at us like, ‘Oh, boy, are we going to lose this thing?’”

The answer to that question, of course, was a resounding no.

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