It should surprise exactly no one that Chiawana Riverhawks came back big in the second half Friday night after falling behind by two scores early to Southridge.
After all, they have been climbing out of a big hole all season.
Austin Urlacher ran for 154 yards and a touchdown as a second-half injury replacement, Chiawana's defense slammed the door shut after the break, and Logan Ellsworth kicked a 29-yard field goal with in the final minute to lead the Riverhawks to a 17-14 win over the Suns at Lampson Stadium.
The victory combined with Walla Walla's 35-33 loss to Kamiakin locked up a playoff berth for Chiawana (5-3, 3-3 Mid-Columbia), which has won five straight after an 0-3 start.
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"We have the mentality that we never quit, that the game's never over until (the clock) is :00," said Riverhawks quarterback Joey Zamora, who is the epitome of comeback after throwing a pick-six at the Southridge 5 on the game's first drive.
Suns corner David Mazzei made the big play, turning back a promising Chiawana drive powered by quick-cutting junior back Clifton Lozano, who had 68 yards on the first drive and 121 on 20 first-half carries before a stinger put him on the sidelines for the entire second half.
Enter Urlacher, whose first touch went for 34 yards and a touchdown to pull the Riverhawks to within 14-7 two minutes into the third quarter.
A Riverhawks defense that grudgingly gave up just 99 yards to Southridge in the first half kept up the pressure in the second. They forced a three-and-out after Urlacher's score, and Zamora guided a 62-yard drive that culminated in his 12-yard TD hookup with TJ Avery.
Southridge back Kadin Diaz powered his way to 129 yards on 29 carries, but the Suns never threatened in the second half until their final desperation drive.
Still, Diaz earned a tip of the hat from the Riverhawks.
"I couldn't wrap up," said 6-foot-2, 245-pound lineman Juan Noyola. Added fellow lineman Mark De Ruyter: "He's one of the best backs in the league -- Devven Ramos, Jonah Hoe and Kadin Diaz."
Ellsworth's winning kick came on a drive that started on Chiawana's 17 with 4:24 to play. Urlacher broke off a pair of runs for first downs, and Zamora-to-Avery worked for another. Urlacher then struck for 16 and 12 yards to move down to the Southridge 7. A holding penalty backed it up, and Ellsworth eventually came in for the 29-yard winner.
Southridge (5-3, 4-2) made full use of the final 49.1 seconds, thanks to a 35-yard completion on fourth-and-10 from Conner Grigg to Brenden Kelly, who went up high to beat a double team.
But Bernardo Castillo dove into the backfield for a sack 5.2 seconds left, forcing the Suns to try a 47-yard field goal to tie. Conner Mertens' kick into the wind was on line but fell short.
The Suns still are in the thick of the MCC 3A playoff race, which will go down to the final week with every spot up for grabs.
The Riverhawks, on the other hand, know their postseason is secure. And after an 0-3 start, they know how to climb obstacles.
"They questioned our heart, if we could get it done," De Ruyter said of the coaches' message at half time, "and we came out fired up."
Chiawana 0 0 14 3 -- 17
Southridge 14 0 0 0 -- 14
S--David Mazzei 95 interception return (Conner Mertens kick)
S--Masceo Ealy-Thomas 34 pass from Conner Grigg (Mertens)
C--Austin Urlacher 46 run (Logan Ellsworth kick)
C--TJ Avery 12 pass from Joey Zamora (Ellsworth kick)
C--FG Ellsworth 29
RUSHING--C, Clifton Lozano 20-121, Urlacher 16-154, Zamora 2-(minus 8). S, Kadin Diaz 29-129, Grigg 3-(minus 11).
PASSING--C, Zamora 8-22-1--112. S, Grigg 9-18-0--108.
RECEIVING--C, Avery 5-61, Jordan Aviles 1-13, Grady Graff 1-21, Urlacher 1-10. S, Brenden Kelly 2-5, Ealy-Thomas 3-49, Bryce Overholt 2-11, Myles Hejmanowski 1-8.
FIRST DOWNS--C 18, S 13. FUMBLES-LOST--C 0-0, S 2-2. PENALTIES-YARDS--C 5-29, S 3-20.