WHITE SWAN – A few weeks ago, the thought of Oroville’s football team even hanging with a powerful White Swan squad seemed a tad optimistic.
The young Hornets have grown as the season has progressed. And there they were, in hostile territory on Friday, Oct. 19, trailing the Cougars 33-30 in the fourth quarter.
Oroville had its chance to take the lead, but a promising drive came undone thanks to an untimely penalty and a bad snap on the next play. White Swan went on to hold off the Hornets 41-30.
White Swan star running back Alex Sampson, whom the Hornets weren’t able to contain all night, ended Oroville’s chance at the upset with a 30-yard touchdown run with 6:32 left in the game to give the Cougars an 11-point lead.
Sampson was responsible for over 400 all-purpose yards, starting with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game.
He added 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground, caught two passes for 86 yards and completed another pass for 40 yards.
“Sampson is a pretty special player,” said Oroville coach Tam Hutchinson. “He hadn’t played in their last couple of games and I was hoping we might miss him. He hurt us in a lot of ways.
“But I give our kids a lot of credit. They played really well and matched them point for point. We just couldn’t quite keep up with them.”
Sampson was a sophomore on the White Swan team that the Hornets eliminated in the division crossover round of the 2B state playoffs two years ago.
If Oroville suffered any ill effects from their five-hour bus ride to White Swan, it didn’t show in the field, at least not after Sampson’s opening salvo.
The Hornets immediately bounced back with a seven-play, 61-yard drive capped by WIAA Class 2B Athlete of the Week Luke Kindred’s 27-yard touchdown run.
The teams traded long scoring drives through most of the first half, with the Hornets getting a 21-yard Kindred-to-Smith scoring strike and a 2-yard Dustin Nigg scoring run to offset two scoring runs by Sampson and one from Niko Nanez.
Nigg’s run gave the Hornets a 22-20 lead with 2:31 left in the half, but the Cougars marched 80 yards on seven plays to take a 28-22 halftime lead on Sampson’s 3-yard run.
Neither team could get the upper hand in the third quarter until Nanez scored again with 26 seconds left in the third to give White Swan its largest lead at 35-22.
“We kind of stymied them for most of the second half,” Hutchinson said. “We had Kindred shadow Sampson and that made a big difference.”
It also took its toll, as Kindred’s legs cramped up at one point, forcing him out of the game for a third-and-long that White Swan converted.
“His calves were rock hard,” Hutchinson said. “We had to throw a freshman in there, and they sent Sampson right out at him. You could see it coming and there wasn’t much we could do about it. That was a tough one right there.”
The Hornets came back with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took just 3:45 to pull within three points on Tanner Smith’s 17-yard run with eight minutes to go.
Oroville had the ball and a chance to take the lead, but had a long gain deep into White Swan territory wiped out by a holding call, and a snap over Kindred’s head on 2nd-and-20 put the Hornets in an even deeper hole.
“The penalty came out of nowhere,” Hutchinson said. “Tanner had just made a great catch with two guys on him, but then the flag came in really late.
“The next play, we were in a shotgun for probably the first time all year and we ended up with third and forever. So we turned the ball over and Sampson got us again.”
Sampson’s 30-yard touchdown run proved to be too much for the Hornets to overcome.
Kindred finished with 144 rushing yards on 25 carries and completed 5-of-15 passes for 58 yards, with Smith hauling in all five completions. Smith also had two kick returns for 49 yards.
“Luke was just outstanding,” Hutchinson said. “He took control of the game. When he got flushed out of the pocket he was running for first downs, and he had a number of passes that should have been caught.”
Nigg added 61 yards on 11 carries.
Defensively Kindred was in on eight total tackles and had an interception, Jake Scott was in on eight tackles and had a tackle for loss, Logan Mills was in on five tackles and had a tackle for loss and Smith was in on six tackles.
“(White Swan coach) Andy Bush is a class guy,” Hutchinson said. “He called me (Saturday) just to reinforce how well he thought we played, and to tell me he really doesn’t look forward to playing us next year (without Sampson). The kids had a lot be proud of.”
The Hornets (4-4, 3-2 Central Washington League) are still in solid position for a playoff spot despite dropping into fourth place in the league. With three spots available, Kittitas (4-0 CWL), White Swan (3-1) and Liberty Bell (3-1) currently have the edge on the Hornets.
Liberty Bell, however, has yet to play either Kittitas or White Swan, and the Hornets topped the Mountain Lions 28-27 two weeks ago. The only scenario that would leave the Hornets without at least a three-way tiebreak playoff would be a Liberty Bell sweep of both front-runners.
One possible option is for the Hornets to start their playoff run with a game at Waitsburg-Prescott, as they did two years ago.
All of that, of course, is contingent on Oroville taking care of business this Friday, Oct. 26, against Bridgeport, which was 0-7 (0-3) heading into its contest with Manson, which was moved to Monday night.