Too deep a hole for Tigers

John Rawley (73) and Collin Aitcheson (3) celebrate after Aitcheson recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter that kept the Tigers’ comeback hopes alive.

TONASKET – Playing before what was by far the largest crowd of the season, the Tonasket football team didn’t exactly come out firing on all cylinders.

With KREM 2 weather forecaster Tom Sherry and his crew in attendance, the Tigers fell behind 35-7 at halftime and looked like they were set to play most of the second half under the dreaded running clock.

But the Tigers bounced back to make a game of it, “winning” the second half and throwing a bit of a scare into the Bulldogs before falling 42-21.

“I give our kids a lot of credit,” said Tonasket coach Jay Hawkins. “They were down 28 and came out intense. We felt like we were a lot better than what we showed in the first half, and I thought we played like it in the second half.”

Chris Elliott (59) gets help from a teammate as he sacks Okanogan quarterback Clay Ashworth during Friday’s contest.

The Tonasket defense stopped Okanogan on its first two series of the third quarter, and momentum shifted on Michael Orozco’s interception and big return to midfield. Orozco scored on a 5-yard run with 1:48 left in the third quarter, and Ian Young picked off a pass on Okanogan’s next play to again give the Tigers the ball at midfield.

Tonasket moved the ball to the Okanogan 5, but the Bulldogs’ Arturo Ramos made what may have been the play of the game by stripping the ball on a 4th-and-1 play to end the Tigers’ threat.

It was a big play because Orozco picked off his second pass of the half three plays later, returning it to the Okanogan 1-yard line to set up Austin Booker’s 1-yard plunge. Derek Sund’s extra point kick made it 35-21, and after Collin Aitcheson recovered the ensuing onside kick Tonasket was in business again with eight minutes still to play.

“It was pretty cool that all our fans stuck around for the second half,” Hawkins said. “They got to see us play the way we can, and after Collin recovered the kick, it got pretty loud. It was exciting.

“If we had gotten that other score (which would have made it 35-28), it would really have been interesting to see how it would have played out.”

But with a 14-point deficit still to overcome, the Tigers weren’t able to move the ball, and the Bulldogs sacked Jeff Stedtfeld for a big loss and a fumble that set up Okanogan’s final touchdown of the night (a 12-yard run by Tyler Morris) to regain control of the game for good.

The Tigers’ Roberto Juarez (31) tries to get between a pair of Okanogan defenders after making a catch Friday.

Turnovers were a huge factor in the first half as well, as a fumble and an interception on the Tigers’ first three possessions set up Okanogan scores, though a Booker touchdown in the first quarter briefly had Tonasket ahead 7-6.

It was close until the final minutes of the second quarter, when Tonasket mistakes on special teams set up two quick Okanogan scores heading into the half. Joe Townsend’s blocked punt with 1:18 left in the half was returned by Morris for a touchdown that put the Tigers in their four touchdown hole at the half.

“The good thing was, we showed how we’re capable of playing,” Hawkins said. “But we made way too many mistakes. And to Okanogan’s credit, they took full advantage of them.”

Morris led all rushers with 110 yards on 16 carries, while Ashworth completed 8-of-13 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Orozco ran for 95 yards on 11 carries and Roberto Juarez caught two passes for 41 yards. Booker added 60 yards on 19 carries, and Jeff Stedtfeld, while splitting quarterback duties with Trevor Terris, completed 2-of-4 passes for 45 yards and an interception.

The Tigers (3-1, 1-1 CTL) are scheduled to travel to Cashmere (4-0, 2-0) this Friday, Sept. 28. The Bulldogs, second-ranked in the state, look as powerful as ever as they’ve allowed just seven points total in their four games thus far.

Air conditions due to the fires in the Wenatchee area have continued to be a problem CTL teams on the south end of the league, so fans should pay attention to any possible location changes before traveling to Cashmere for the game.

The Tigers’ Roberto Juarez (31) tries to get between a pair of Okanogan defenders after making a catch Friday.