RICHLAND — Touchet may have squandered its shot at a league title, but gained a state championship blueprint during a few damp, chilly hours at Hanford High School Friday.
Such is the funhouse logic of the Southeast 1B League.
Indians head coach Gary Dorman was emphatic in pointing out that “close still doesn’t count as a win” after Touchet fell 26-8 to defending state champion Liberty Christian.
But he knows that the gap between his fifth-ranked squad and the second-ranked Patriots is evaporating.
And in the big picture, that gap may be the only one that matters come November.
“There’s a lot of ball between then and now, and we have to take care of business,” Dorman said. “We dropped too many passes and didn’t execute our run offense like I thought we would. We have to clean up some things. We have to get that corner turned.”
No one has turned that corner lately against Liberty Christian (3-0, 1-0 in league), which was undefeated in 2012 and opened its title defense with a pair of blowout victories. In fact, the corner hadn’t been visible for Touchet until Friday night; the Indians absorbed a 54-14 pummeling last year and were whipped 60-16 in 2011.
Those were no-contests.
Friday? The Indians came within a handful of plays from a landscape-altering statement.
“The effort was there, the results just weren’t,” said Dorman. “I’m really happy with how hard the kids played. I told them after the game that I’ve never been around a team that (ignored) the scoreboard and kept playing until the final whistle the way they did.”
With big plays supplied by senior quarterback Taylor Lindquist and sophomore running back John Lesser, Liberty Christian managed to make the scoreboard uninteresting down the stretch. But it was very much relevant to start the second half — unlike Patriot romps over Almira-Coulee-Hartline (68-6) and Cove, Ore. (54-0) to open the campaign.
One sequence in particular demonstrated the shrinkage in gap between the state crown and its Touchet suitors.
Chasing a 12-0 deficit, Touchet (3-1, 0-1) opened the second half with a brilliant drive orchestrated by senior quarterback Elias Martinez. Slipping out of the collapsing pocket like a greased eel, Martinez completed five of seven passes in marching the Indians to the Patriot 14.
Along the way, the Indians overcame three penalties and converted a fourth-and-14 on Martinez’s 35-yard dime to Colton Goble on a corner route.
But Martinez’s pass to Colter McKeown, wide open in the flat, was a whisper long on third down, four yards to go from the LC 14. And the swarming Patriots defense finally corralled Touchet’s elusive gunslinger on fourth down, Tate Richards and Robbie Heimann sacking Martinez for a 15-yard loss.
Two plays later, it was 18-0, as Lesser tucked a handoff on a sweep left and bolted into the open for a 66-yard touchdown.
Despite that whiplash-inducing change of fortune, Touchet didn’t fold. Martinez scrambled for nine yards on the first play of the ensuing possession, with 15 more tacked on for a late hit. Then he hit Carlos Rincon for a 21-yard gain to the LC 11.
On first down, Martinez scrambled left to buy time, waited, and flicked a pass to Ruben Butler, whose diving catch in the end zone put the Indians on the board. Edgar Rincon’s conversion run made it 20-8.
Liberty Christian flaunted its championship pedigree on the dagger drive that followed, converting three fourth downs during a 13-play, 64-yard march capped by a 10-yard Lindquist-to-Mitch Godwin touchdown pass on the first snap of the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know how many times we had them fourth-and-long, and they got just a little bit longer,” Dorman said. “We’d be there on a pass play, swipe at the ball and miss, and the quarterback put it right on the money.”
Lesser, who scored the winning touchdown on the final play of the 2012 state championship game, finished with 153 yards rushing and scored the Patriots’ first touchdown on a 47-yard run in the first quarter.
Touchet’s relentless defenders managed to hold Lesser to zero yards or stop him for losses on nine of his 24 carries.
The other tricky thorn in Touchet’s side — Lindquist — was 11-of-23 passing for 180 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Cody Daniels with 29 seconds left in the first half.
“I think Liberty Christian has been averaging 60 points a game,” said Dorman. (61, to be precise.) “I think two of their touchdowns were big plays. I thought our defense played extremely well. Take away three or four plays ... We never did get that big play.”
Martinez completed 10-of-22 passes for 116 yards and rushed for 22, giving him 377 yards passing and 250 rushing through four games. Goble, all 5-foot-5, 150 pounds of him, added 42 hard-fought yards on the ground.
Cesar Velasquez led the Indians defense with five tackles for loss and Goble had three.
“It took our kids about a half to really get adjusted to the size, the speed, the physical play that Liberty Christian brought to the field,” Dorman said. “Our kids, pound-for-pound, I don’t know that there are many teams as tough as these kids.
“We’re getting better,” he added. “When you play quality teams like that, it exposes those areas you need to work on.”
The Southeast 1B League beat goes on for Touchet next week with a visit to up-and-coming St. John-Endicott (2-2, 0-1), which lost a close game at Pomeroy Friday.
“Liberty Christian was better than us last night, but I never felt they were running away from us,” Dorman said. “We’re getting better. We just have to maintain that level of play, and hopefully down the road we’ll have an opportunity to match wits with them again.”
“We’ll probably see Touchet again,” Patriots head coach Mike Olson added.
Patriots 26, Indians 8
Touchet 0 0 8 0 — 8
Liberty Christian 6 6 8 6 — 26
LC — Lesser 47 run (run failed)
LC — Daniels 21 pass from Lindquist (run failed)
LC — Lesser 66 run (Richards pass from Lindquist)
T — Butler 11 pass from Martinez (E. Rincon run)
LC — Godwin 10 pass from Lindquist
First downs 11 17
Rushes/yards 29-53 39-234
Passing yards 116 180
Passes (comp-att-int) 10-22-1 11-23-0
Punts 3 1
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-48 7-55
RUSHING — Tou: Goble 10-42, E. Rincon 5-(-3), Col. McKeown 3-0, Martinez 10-11, Butler 1-3; LC: Lesser 24-153, Branton 4-25, Lindquist 11-56.
PASSING — T: Martinez 10-of-22, 116 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; LC: Lindquist 11-of-23, 180 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT.
RECEIVING — T: Butler 4-26, E. Rincon 2-6, Goble 1-35, C. Rincon 1-21, Colt. McKeown 2-18; LC: Daniels 6-106, Godwin 3-44, Mote 1-16, Lesser 1-14.