There are no secrets between the Prosser Mustangs and the Ellensburg Bulldogs when it comes to football.
When they meet Saturday in the Class 2A quarterfinals at Lions Field in Moses Lake, it will be the second time this season the CWAC foes have matched up. Ellensburg won the first go-round in Week 7 of the regular season 21-14, and the Mustangs are looking to even the score.
“It’s simple,” said Prosser coach Benji Sonnichsen. “We need to score more points than them. Week 7, I wasn’t happy with our offensive scoring production. We moved the ball, we just didn’t score like we needed to. Our target is 28 points on offense. Ellensburg is well coached and their players continue to make plays. They have stayed healthy and all their key guys are still on the field. I think you will see a very scrappy Prosser football team on Saturday who wants to get to Thanksgiving.”
Easier said than done.
The Bulldogs, who have run the table this season for an 11-0 record, feature CWAC offensive and defensive player of the year Gabe Caskey. The 6-foot, 185-pound running back/linebacker has sliced his way through defenses for 2,025 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bulldogs allow an average of 7.45 points per game.
“This will be our biggest challenge,” Sonnichsen said of containing Ellensburg’s all-round player. “Caskey is great at finding the one mistake in the defense where someone doesn’t do their job perfectly. We need to play every down with the mentality that the season is on the line.”
On the flip side, the Mustangs have plenty of weapons of their own.
“Our offensive line and our defensive line are our strengths,” Sonnichsen said. “We should be able to put together a good rushing game. I also expect us to be more effective on offense throwing the ball compared to our Week 7 meeting with them. Cardell Jones had his best overall game of his career last week as a wide receiver, quarterback, punt returner and safety. I expect for him to have a monsterous game.”
Jones is one of three quarterbacks in the Prosser attack. He’s completed 24 of 35 attempts for 336 yards and four touchdowns, but where he shines is at wide receiver, where he has caught 40 passes for 781 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Sharing the quarterback duties with Jones are Tanner Bolt (67-115, 1,106 yards, 20 TDs) and Kasen Blair (54-112, 812 yards, 16 TDs). No matter the situation, they have found a way to be productive.
In the backfield, Isaiah Sanders (64 carries, 504 yards, 8 TDs) and Adrian Lochrie (89 carries, 574 yards, 7 TDs) have carried the load behind an offensive line that includes Jacob Schnellenbach, Jonah Hoefer, Colten Alefteras, Riley Lusk and Wyatt Tolle.
“Our offensive line and our overall defensive efforts have gotten us to the point we are now,” Sonnichsen siad. “Our three-headed monster at quarterback have slowly gotten better and they are playing the best football of the season at the right time.”
The Bulldogs are looking to win their first state title since 1973 — the first year of the state playoffs as we know them today.
The Mustangs, who have made 26 state appearances since 1980, have qualified for the playoffs 23 of the past 25 years (sans 2002 and 2009). They last won a title in 2007.
But not since the state playoffs began in 1973 has a team earned a title that hasn’t been contested on the battle field.
The Colville Indians (10-0) know what Royal is all about, having played them in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
“We lost that game 38-35,” said Colville coach Randy Cornwell. “It was a back-and-forth game. We were driving with about two minutes to go and we fumbled at midfield. After that, they were able to run out the clock. Royal has a rich history and Wiley (Allred) has had some great success.”
The two meet again today in the Class 1A state quarterfinals at Lions Field in Moses Lake, which is kind of like a home game for the Knights, who live just 32 miles down the road.
The Knights come into the game with a 10-1 record, with a 19-13 loss to Cashmere the only blemish on what has turned out to be another standout season.
“We have great kids,” said Allred, who is in his 16th season with the Knights. “They buy into what we ask them to do and have been able to spread the ball around offensively. Defensively, we have been led by middle linebacker Gerard Weyns and Teddy Mead on the defensive line. Those kids do a great job of making sure everyone is on the same page before every snap.”
The Knights’ defense will have to pay close attention to Colville running back Colton Vining. The Northeast A League offensive player of the year is just 5-foot-7 and a 175 pounds, but any kid who shot his first bear at 8 years old is tough as nails.
Vining has 1,322 yards on 150 carries and 21 touchdowns. He’s also caught 11 balls out of the backfield for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
“He is one of three special running backs they have,” Allred said. “They are big, fast and strong. We will have to tackle extremely well.”
Throw in fellow running back Journy Young and quarterback Ben Knight (791 yards, 10 TDs) behind a line that features 6-7, 300-pound offensive tackle Jed Keating, and good things happen.
“We are a senior-laden team and we feel really good about what we have going on here,” Cornwell said. “Colton is a solid kid. He’s a beast in the weight room and a beast on the field. He has talent, but he really has helped himself to be a better player. We feel fortunate to have Ben as our quarterback. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes. We are physical up front and we like to run the ball. We have some kids who can open holes up front. It will be a great matchup.”
The Knights counter with running backs Miguel Ayala (1,309 yards, 15 TDs) and Darrin Miller (779 yards, 15 TDs), and quarterback Kaden Jenks (1,742 yards, 28 TDs), who has been cool under fire for being a sophomore.
“It appears they have a good balance with the pass and run,” Cornwell said. “They have speedy receivers and the backs catch the ball out of the backfield. We have to be ready for that.”
Now the Bulldogs are on the verge of making more history Saturday in Hillsboro against Marist of Eugene.
Earning their first trip to the title game might be easier said than done, especially against the five-time state champion Spartans, but the Bulldogs relish what they have accomplished thus far.
“We like being that surprise team from eastern Oregon,” Hermiston senior quarterback Chase Knutz told The Oregonian after the win over Liberty.
Coach Mark Hodges elaborated on that comment Thursday.
“It wasn’t a surprise to us,” he said. “We felt all year we had the potential to be a threat. For us to be in the semis, it wasn’t like, ‘Wow, this was unexpected.’ Honestly, we expected to be here. We felt we had that team from the beginning.
“I think Chase’s quote is accurate. It wasn’t a surprise from our standpoint. It was a surprise from everyone else’s standpoint.”
Hermiston is on a six-game winning streak, which began Oct. 10 with a 56-17 win over Sandy. The Bulldogs faced Sandy four weeks later in the first round of the 5A state playoffs and churned out a 17-0 victory, then eliminated Liberty 19-14 the next week.
Knutz, the Columbia River Conference offensive player of the year, has thrown for 2,347 yards and 30 touchdowns for the Bulldogs (10-1), who dominated the all-conference list. Hermiston players filled 21 first-team slots — 11 on offense, eight on defense and two on special teams.
“I’ve liked our ability to morph and adjust to whatever the needs are at the time,” Hodges said. “When we’ve needed a physical run game, we’ve done it. Whenever we’ve needed to play the wide-open game, we’ve done it. Our defense has been able to morph into a run-stopping defense that can adjust to a spread system that attacks perimeter and passes.”
The Cardinals (8-3) will attempt to end that streak tonight at Edgar Brown Stadium.
Waitsburg-Prescott, which knocked off Lind-Ritzville/Sprague in the Class 2B state quarterfinals en route to winning the championship in 2011, advanced to the semifinals the next year. That’s when LRS eliminated the Cardinals with a 21-7 win.
“We’re 1-1 against them, so this is the rubber match, I guess you could say,” W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said. “Our kids are excited. We think we can win. We’re playing that underdog role. We’ve got nothing to lose.
“We’ve watched all their film. They’re very athletic again. They lost a lot of seniors, so I thought they’d be down, but they’re not.”
Leading W-P’s offense is 6-foot-4 sophomore Jacob Dunn, who has thrown for 2,354 yards. Twelve of his 21 passing touchdowns have come in the past five games.
“He’s got some confidence right now,” Bartlow said. “We believe he’s the right guy pulling the trigger. He’s got 10 seniors around him who are pretty good football players.”
John Lesser ran for three touchdowns and passed for three in the Patriots’ 64-18 win Oct. 3 in Richland. Now the Southeast 1B rivals will meet again in the state quarterfinals Saturday in Pasco.
Liberty Christian, which won the Class 1B state title in 2012 but missed the playoffs last year, is unbeaten in 2014, largely thanks to the efforts of Lesser. The junior has rushed for 1,350 yards, passed for 950 and accounted for 37 touchdowns. But the offensive contributions of Mitch Godwin (27 catches, 700 yards, 11 TDs) and 1,000-yard rusher Cody Daniels (17 TDs) cannot be overlooked. Freshman Nico Shupe got in on the action last weekend, rushing for the final two touchdowns in the Patriots’ win over Entiat.
Liberty Christian will go up against the all-Southeast 1B first-team tandem of quarterback Hunter Woltering and wide receiver Tyler Thurman, who connected for two scores in their first meeting. But the Patriots’ defense is rock-solid with first-team linebackers Lesser and Daniels, and Robby Heimann on the line. Pass protection will be crucial for the Vikings, as Heimann has a jaw-dropping 28 sacks to his credit.
After a victory as lopsided as last week’s 74-6 thrashing of Entiat, one might think a letdown could be possible for Liberty Christian. But that word doesn’t seem to be in the Patriots’ vocabulary: Their average margin of victory this season is 42 points.
“Our ultimate goal of winning the state championship should keep our focus as we prepare week to week and take each game one at a time,” Liberty Christian coach Mike Olson said.