TOUCHET — The opposing head coaches in Saturday’s Class 1B state semifinal football game between Touchet and Rosalia at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco are in agreement.
Rosalia has come a long way in figuring out the finer points of 8-man football.
When Touchet defeated Rosalia 54-14 during the third week of the regular season in Rosalia, the Spartans were still way behind the learning curve. That’s according to Rosalia coach Kaleb
Mason, and Touchet’s Gary Dorman is quick to concur.
“I had never coached 8-man before, and it was the same for our whole coaching staff,” Mason explained. “There was a definite learning curve for us and our kids, because you don’t have those three other guys filling up spaces on the field.
“If you miss a tackle, it can be real bad. Understanding that was huge, and that is what we worked on for the first eight or nine weeks of the season, hammering on containment and sure tackling.”
Dorman admits that he doesn’t have total recall of that Sept. 20 game in Rosalia. But he came away with one strong perception after watching the Spartans manhandle Colton 76-32 last Friday night in a state quarterfinal game in Clarkston.
“They seem to have the 8-man game well in hand now,” Dorman said. “When we played them the third game of the year, they had just dropped down from 11-man football and they were still learning the ropes. Eight-man is a different game, and they hadn’t fully grasped the concepts.”
Rosalia is playing 8-man football this season after pulling out of a sports co-op with Tekoa and Oakesdale last spring. The Spartans played an independent schedule and will take a 9-2 record into Saturday’s 6 p.m. game in Pasco.
It could be a one-year hiatus for Rosalia, which has already agreed to co-op with Tekoa in the fall, a move that will in all likelihood result in a move back to 11-man football. So the Spartans are trying to make the most of it this fall.
Of the 18 players on his varsity roster this season, Mason has a core group of nine seniors who provide the bulk of the team’s strength on both sides of the ball. The team leaders are quarterback Ryan Maley (5-foot-11, 150 pounds) and running backs Craig Nelson (6-0, 185) and Clay Shelton (5-11, 170).
Nelson has rushed for roughly 2,000 yards and caught passes for between 400 and 500 hundred yards, Mason estimated. Shelton has garnered another 1,400-or-so yards rushing, the coach said, and Maley has passed for around 1,300 yards and added another 500-or-so yards on the ground.
“If I had to describe our team, we are very physical,” Mason said. “We want to pound it in the trenches. Our running backs are physical, but they are also fast, and our quarterback is very efficient and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”
Once again, Dorman agrees with that assessment.
“They have two dynamic running backs, and their quarterback is slick,” Dorman said of the Spartans. “They run maybe five or six different plays, and they run them and run them and say, ‘Stop us if you can.’
“They are going to present some problems. We are going to have to play our ‘A’ game, because they are a big, talented group of boys.”
In one sense, the Spartans seem to pose the same kind of problems Touchet faced last Saturday night in its quarterfinal game in Spokane against Wilbur-Creston. The Wildcats came into that game with a 10-1 record, a pair of 1,000-yard runners and a quarterback with 2,000 passing yards.
The Indians prevailed 36-14, largely on the strength of an inspired defensive effort.
“To hold that team to 14 points, I am awfully proud of the way our kids played against a team that was averaging 60-some points a game,” Dorman said. “We wanted to stop the run and force them to beat us with the pass, and we took advantage of the opportunities given to us.”
Colter McKeown led the team with 17 tackles, Colton Goble was right behind with 16 and Cesar Velasquez registered three quarterback sacks and 10 tackles total.
George Garcia forced a key fumble late in the first half that led to a Touchet touchdown.
And Ruben Butler and Elias Martinez intercepted passes, with Butler returning his 15 yards for the game’s first TD.
Mason scouted that game, and he was once again impressed with Touchet’s defensive toughness.
“They may not be big, but they love to come at you and hit,” Mason said. “Touchet is a physical team, and that No. 53 (Goble) is wired up. He loves to get into things, and I love seeing that. I have a lot of respect for that kid.
“Touchet has a great football program and I have a lot of respect for them. They are well coached, disciplined and they like to hit as well. That’s always been a pretty darn good 8-man team that I have heard about.”
Nevertheless, Mason remains confident that his team has made the necessary strides and adjustments to turn the tables on Touchet Saturday night.
“In that early game, we didn’t tackle well, we didn’t capitalize in the red zone and we had too many turnovers,” Mason said. “Nothing against Touchet, but it was one of those games where things that are important in any game we didn’t do well. It was a wakeup call, not only for the kids but for the coaches as well.”
For his part, Dorman adds one final insight to that earlier contest.
“We were still trying to find our wheels at that point, too,” the Touchet coach said.
With the 11-1 Indians riding an eight-game winning streak and the Spartans winners of their last seven games, both teams enter Saturday’s game going full tilt.