Because his team entered Friday night’s state football quarterfinals riding a 37-game winning streak, Lind-Ritzville-Sprague senior Cort Ruzicka has learned to do the right things on the football field at the right time.
Such was the case at Edgar Brown Stadium when Ruzicka — facing a third-and-10 situation back at his own 20 — connected on a long pass to his quarterback-turned-receiver buddy, Jacob Saetre, for a 30-yard gain and a first down against host Waitsburg-Prescott.
That allowed the Broncos to run out the clock and escape their 2B quarterfinal contest with the Cardinals for a 17-14 victory and a semifinal date next weekend with Okanogan.
It also allowed Lind-Ritzville-Sprague, a two-time defending state champion, to extend its win streak to 38 games.
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“We don’t like to talk about the streak,” said Ruzicka, who has played varsity all four years for the Broncos. “We take it one week at a time. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s what we talk about to the underclassmen.”
If anyone was going to set an example for the younger guys, it would be Ruzicka.
He led the Broncos (12-0) in rushing yards (85), passing yards (73) and receiving yards (45). He also was among the defensive leaders with four tackles (two for loss) and an interception, and he scored the team’s first touchdown.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Waitsburg-Prescott coach Jeff Bartlow, whose team finished 8-4.
But all of those yards didn’t come easy for Ruzicka or the Broncos.
“They used a lot of stunts out there,” said Ruzicka of the Cardinals’ D.
Ruzicka’s coach, Greg Whitmore, agreed.
“We struggled on offense, and it has a lot to do with them,” he said, pointing over to the Cardinals. “They scouted us well. We had to scratch and claw for everything.”
The Broncos led 8-7 at the half, but scored nine unanswered points in the third quarter on a Mason Brausen 25-yard scoring run, and a 32-yard Matt Leffel field goal.
However, the Cardinals answered in the fourth quarter when sophomore quarterback Jacob Dunn hit Chance Laroue with a 19-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 17-14. It was the second scoring strike between the two (a 16-yarder in the first quarter) and it gave W-P the momentum. Dunn also finished with 193 yards passing, while Laroue had seven catches for 120 yards.
With 5 minutes left to play, the Broncos offense struggled deep in its own territory and was looking at that 3rd-and-10 situation at its own 20.
That’s when Ruzicka made the play of the game. The lefty found Saetre on a flag pattern, with the senior slipping behind Luke Alexenko. Ruzicka laid the ball into Saetre’s arms for a 30-yard game, a first down, and the ball game, as the Broncos ran out the clock.
“Jake and I have played together since we were young,” said Ruzicka. “We’ve been playing like that forever.”
Whitmore said it was the right call at the right time.
“We’ve done that before,” he said. “It’s either a completion or an incompletion and we punt away. They’ve executed that play well the last couple of games.”
Alexenko, who has nine interceptions this season, had a strong game for the Cardinals with five tackles and an interception. Linebacker Michael Grant led W-P defensively, with five tackles (two for loss) and an interception; while Jason Carter added six tackles (one for loss).
Linebacker Colin Sheffels led the Broncos with 10 tackles (one for loss) and a hurry; Alan Field added six tackles.
LRS — Cort Ruzicka 17 run (kick blocked)
W-P — Chance Laroue 16 pass from Jacob Dunn (Antonio Benito kick)
LRS — Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
LRS — Mason Brausen 25 run (kick failed)
LRS — 32 FG Matt Leffel
W-P — Laroue 19 pass from Dun (Benito kick)
RUSHING — LRS, Ruzicka 22-85, Brausen 13-45, Jacob Saetre 7-6, Damien Rouleau 2-minus 3. W-P, Luke Alexenko 1-19, Kobie Brown 7-16, Owen Lanning 2-15, Leroue 1-12, Team 1-minus 6, Travis Crockett 4-minus 7, Dunn 7-minus 22.
PASSING — LRS, Saetre 5-9-2-62, Ruzicka 3-3-0-73. W-P, Dunn 14-26-2-193.
RECEIVING — LRS, Ruzicka 4-45, Saetre 2-43, Leffel 1-30, Brausen 1-17. W-P, Leroue 7-120, Alexenko 4-37, Brown 2-23, Lanning 1-13.
FIRST DOWNS — LRS 12, W-P 12. FUMBLES-LOST — LRS 1-0, W-P 4-0. PENALTIES-YARDS — LRS 7-44, W-P 9-74.