There was enough magic left in Waitsburg-Prescott’s tank to make Cardinals’ football fans and players think they could overcome a 21-0 halftime deficit against Lind-Ritzville/Sprague on Saturday at Lampson Stadium.
But a Waitsburg-Prescott offense built around big plays couldn’t find enough of them, however, to pull out a miracle finish in a 21-7 loss in the Class 2B state semifinals.
“You can’t get down 21-0 against a great team. That’s new territory for us,” Cardinals coach Jeff Bartlow said. “We just played so flat and didn’t execute like we’re capable of. We played a very good defensive team. Give them credit for that.”
Lind-Ritzville/Sprague (12-0) will meet Morton-White Pass (12-0) for the 2B state championship at 4 p.m. Friday at the Tacoma Dome. It will be the Broncos’ first trip to a state final since beating DeSales for the 2B championship in 2004.
LRS got a big game from Dylan Hartz, who passed for 230 yards and a touchdown as a quarterback. He also played defense, recording a tackle for loss, recovering a fumble that resulted in a TD and returning one of his two interceptions 38 yards for another score to help lift his team into the title game.
“He’s an outstanding athlete. He’s like another coach on the field,” Broncos’ coach Greg Whitmore said.
Whitmore was the offensive coordinator for Lind-Ritzville’s championship team in 2004, but this is his first chance at a state title as head coach.
“We’re playing a great team, and we’ll be the underdog,” he said. “We’ll be injured and battered. Hopefully, we’ll come out like wounded animals and play our guts out.”
LRS got things started on its second drive in the first quarter. Hartz threw a short screen pass that receiver Cort Ruzicka broke for a 68-yard gain to the Cardinals’ 7-yard line. Conner O’Neill ran it in from there on a toss sweep to make it 7-0 Broncos.
Hartz led a six-play scoring drive on the next series, capping it with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ruzicka to put LRS up 14-0.
Hartz intercepted W-P quarterback Stirling Eastman on the first play of the next drive, running it back 38 yards to the house for another score with 24 seconds left in the first quarter, giving the Broncos a commanding 21-0 lead.
Waitsburg-Prescott put itself in position for a potential comeback, however, shutting out Lind-Ritzville/Sprague for the final three quarters and outgaining the Broncos 147-132 yards in the second half.
“At the half, we told the kids not to lower their heads. We knew what we had to do — play physical, do our assignments and not let them run on us,” W-P senior Dalton Estes said.
Eastman dislocated a finger four plays into the second half and had to regain his composure on the sideline before returning to lead the Cardinals’ first scoring drive.
“I followed through after a throw and hit a kid’s helmet. I got really dizzy and was really out of it. But I knew this could by my last football game ever, and I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines,” said Eastman, who had trainers re-set the finger and tape it so he could play.
He came back to lead an 85-yard, 15-play scoring drive kept alive by Estes’ 10-yard run on a fake punt. Eastman finished it with a 13-yard pass to Chance Leroue on fourth-and-6.
“Chance was tall enough to jump up and go get it,” Bartlow said.
LRS looked to put the game away on its next drive, going 54 yards in nine plays before Ruzicka fumbled the ball away at the Cardinals’ 1-yard line just before he broke the plane of the end zone.
Roy Ebong recovered the ball in the back of the end zone for Waitsburg-Prescott, setting up a drive that could have brought the Cardinals to within a score of the Broncos.
“That turnover was kind of exciting. We had kids who didn’t hear the whistle and didn’t know what happened, but one kid was smart enough to pick it up,” Estes said.
Eastman hit Ebong with a 9-yard pass to open the final drive but missed on four of his next five passes before Ruzicka intercepted his final pass to end the threat.
Waitsburg-Prescott 0 0 0 7 — 7
Lind-Ritzville/Sprague 21 0 0 0 — 21
LRS—Connor O’Neill 7 run (kick failed)
LRS—Cort Ruzicka 20 pass from Dylan Hartz (Ryan Whitmore pass from Hartz)
LRS—Hartz 38 interception return (Matt Leffel kick)
WP—Chance Leroue 13 pass from Stirling Eastman (Dalton Estes kick)
RUSHING—WP, Estes 8-36, Eastman 5-(minus 3), Leroue 9-44. LRS, O’Neill 21-96, Tyler Greenwalt 1-10, Cort Ruzicka 6-24, Hartz 4-5, Bridger Smith 2-10.
PASSING—WP, Eastman 16-36-3-110, Estes 0-1-0-0. LRS, Hartz 10-18-0-230.
RECEIVING—WP, Riley Stevens 2-27, Roy Ebong 3-17, Estes 7-34, James Thompkins 2-16, Leroue 2-16. LRS, Ruzicka 6-140, Whitmore 1-4, O’Neill 2-36, Greenwalt 1-50.
FIRST DOWNS—WP 14, LRS 14. FUMBLES-LOST—WP 1-1, LRS 1-1. PENALTIES-YARDS—WP 6-30, LRS 8-70.