TACOMA -- Dylan Hartz had thrown similar passes to Conner O’Neill their entire lives, and more often than not, O’Neill caught them.
Of course, neither had ever been involved in a throw with so much riding on it.
This wasn’t a game of catch in a field in Eastern Washington. Rather, it was a pass on 4th-and-19 with less than 3 minutes to go in a state title game Friday at the Tacoma Dome.
Lind-Ritzville/Sprague’s Hartz rolled to his right and lofted a ball down the middle of the field, where O’Neill reached high to grab it with a defender draped over his back.
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The 23-yard completion set up a touchdown and a 21-19 victory over Morton-White Pass to win the Class 2B state title.
“The plan was to throw to Conner the entire time,” Hartz said. “He’s my go-to receiver. There were guys in my face, and I threw it up. Luckily, Conner came up with a big play.”
O’Neill scored the winning touchdown two plays later on a 4-yard stretch play, and Hartz almost sealed the game with an incredible one-handed interception.
After LRS had a punt blocked, the Broncos survived one final play by MWP to seal a 13-0 season and their first state title since 2004.
“After the punt block, I’m thinking first, ‘We’ve got to work on our special teams in the morning,’ ” LRS coach Greg Whitmore said. “And second, ‘This is the way the book is supposed to be written. This is it. Either we are meant to win or we are meant to lose.’
“I guess that is what was supposed to happen.”
The Broncos were dominated on both sides of the ball in the first half but put together two solid drives in the second half to pull out the victory.
“Our coaches have been in this situation before,” O’Neill said. “In ’04 (against DeSales), we were down 14-0 at the half, and we came back and won. They said they saw the same things in us, and that we needed to stay together and get it done.”
The rally started with the Broncos trailing 19-15 with 8 minutes, 41 seconds left. They started at their own 22 and moved down the field until Hartz was sacked, putting the Broncos in a big hole.
After two conservative play calls left LRS at 4th-and-19 from the Morton-White Pass 39, Whitmore called timeout and had a player run down the sideline to open up the middle of the field.
O’Neill went down the middle, and Hartz lofted a pass his way. With a defender on his back, O’Neill, a junior, grabbed it and fell to the turf for a first down.
“He threw a perfect ball and gave me the opportunity to make a play,” O’Neill said. “We’re best buds, have been ever since grade school. We just have this team chemistry. I know where he is going to put the ball all the time.”
The pair’s friendship dates to first grade, when they would watch their older brothers play Pee Wee basketball. Despite Hartz living in Ritzville and O’Neill in Lind, the two remained close, using sports as the natural tool.
It all paid off Friday as they helped lead an improbable comeback to cap an unbelievable season.
“The bigger the venue, the bigger the game, the bigger they play,” Whitmore said of his two playmakers. “When you have players like we do, with heart and they never give up ... I’m so thankful.”
Morton-White Pass 6 6 7 0 -- 19
Lind-Ritzville/Sprague 7 0 8 6 -- 21
MWP--Rylon Kolb 12 run (kick failed), 10:32
LRS--Cort Ruzicka 2 pass from Dylan Hartz (Matt Leffel kick), 2:51
MWP--Brian Reynolds 15 run (run failed), 11:52
LRS--Ruzicka 3 run (Ruzicka pass from Hartz), 7:57
MWP--Gianni Bertucci 33 pass from Rylon Kolb (Reynolds kick), 3:38
LRS--Conner O’Neill 4 run (kick blocked), 2:00
Rushing--MWP, Reynolds 16-98, Bertucci 12-68, Kolb 6-21, Tyler Barnett 3-8. LRS, O’Neill 14-52, Ruzicka 11-27, Hartz 10-(minus 4).
Passing--MWP, Kolb 3-8-1--90. LRS, 11-18-0--98, Ruzicka 1-1-0--9.
Receiving--MWP, Bertucci 2-74, Zach Elswick 1-16. LRS, O’Neill 5-43, Ruzicka 3-23, Ryan Whitmore 2-26, Matt Fryberger 1-8.
Interceptions--LRS, Hartz 1-0. Fumble recoveries--LRS, Leffel 1-0. Sacks--MWP, Ben Wright 2-(minus 12). LRS, Ruzicka 1-(minus 3).
First downs--MWP 19, LRS 21. Fumbles-lost--MWP 1-1, LRS 3-0. Penalties-yards--MWP 3-35, LRS 2-10. Punts-Avg.--MWP 1-40, LRS 3-31.7.
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org