TONASKET – One play away.
Tonasket’s football team just needed one play — and had several chances to make that one play — to hang on to a narrow lead at Riverside on Friday. A win would have lifted the Tigers to their first .500 season in five years.
Instead, that one big play eluded the Tigers in their season finale as they fell in heartbreaking fashion to Northeast A Conference rival Riverside on Friday, Nov. 2, 29-28.
The Tigers hadn’t played in a close game all season, and certainly not one that came down to the final possession. Big wins and big losses, but no game prior to their finale had been decided by fewer than 20 points.
Learning to make big plays in a tight game takes experience, and that was one thing Tonasket didn’t have. There were a lot of positives, but the Tigers left the field knowing they’d let one get away.
“It’s one of those games that’s tough, because there were significant plays that happened, especially down the stretch,” said Tonasket coach Jay Hawkins. “The last eight minutes, (Riverside) made the major plays.
“It was a hard-fought football game. Our kids played well tonight. Riverside ended up getting one more point than us.”
Tonasket led 28-21 and seemed ready to put the game away. But after chewing up eight minutes of clock on a 12-play drive that took them to the Riverside 18 midway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers fumbled the ball away to give Riverside new life.
The Rams scored the game-winner in improbable fashion. A bad snap left Riverside facing 4th-and 35 at the 49-yard line, but quarterback Andrew Kramer connected with Rhett Hardan for a 37-yard gain to pick up the first down.
“Between that fumble and the fourth down play, those are two plays that if they happen differently we probably could have sealed the game,” Hawkins said.
With new life and the clock running down, Rams running back Jacob Collins escaped a tackle in the backfield to convert a third down, then scored a four-yard touchdown run and the ensuing two-point conversion with 1:14 left to take the lead.
Tonasket was unable to get past midfield on its last-gasp drive.
Despite the loss, Hawkins was pleased with how his team approached its season-ending contest.
“I really thought as we were coming on the field for warm-ups that we had a nice mental edge,” he said. “It showed. We played really good football, and emotionally we played at a high level.”
The Tigers had the running game working at a high level, pounding the Rams for 333 yards on 49 carries. Michael Orozco had a pair of 60-yard touchdown runs in the first half and finished with 194 yards on 17 carries. Austin Booker added 139 yards on 27 carries and had a second quarter touchdown that briefly gave the Tigers a 12-0 lead.
Riverside responded to the two touchdown deficit with a 10-play, 51-yard drive, capped by Collins’ 4-yard run, to cut it to 12-7.
Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Tyler Jack picked off a Jeff Stedtfeld pass and returned it 32 yards for the go-ahead score.
Orozco’s second long touchdown of the first half reclaimed the lead for the Tigers, but Riverside took a 21-20 lead into the halftime locker room thanks to a 43-yard Kramer-to-Dallas Shuler bomb.
The Tigers reclaimed the lead in the third quarter as Michael Orozco threw a halfback option pass to Roberto Juarez that went for a 65-yard touchdown.
“We just put that in this week,” Hawkins said. “I figured that we kind of had them after we ran a counter on the previous play and saw the way they shifted. We figured Roberto would be wide open. It was just a long throw for Michael to make, but it got there.”
The Tigers wrapped up the season at 4-6 overall, 2-5 in CTL play.
“It was a really great season in terms of just being around this group of kids,” Hawkins said. “We had a lot of great times in practice and we had some exciting games. That part was great.
“More specifically, as far as how the season went, I really need some time to reflect on it. But that opportunity to be around a lot of great kids is why I keep coming back to it.”