If there were a piece needed to complete Cusick’s football puzzle, it was at running back.
The Panthers found it.
Lake Quinault transfer Josiah Rhoades completed the picture by filling the position left open by graduation. The 5-foot-7, 155-pounder helped Cusick to an unbeaten record and into the State 1B 8-man football quarterfinals.
“It was hard replacing Dustin Villegas,” Panthers coach Sonny Finley said. “(Rhoades) moved here with his dad and stepped right in.”
Unbeaten again this year, Cusick is one of four eastern Washington teams that make up one side of the state bracket and may be the top four teams in the entire classification. Two years ago Almira/Coulee-Hartline and Odessa played for the title.
“I’m biased, but I think the four best teams are on our side, and it’s a little bit of a shame they don’t get a chance at that state final thing,” ACH coach Brandon Walsh said.
Cusick hosts Southeast 1B Colton at 7 tonight in Newport. ACH’s Warriors travel to Tri-Cities Prep for a 7 p.m. game.
Rhoades leads Cusick in rushing as a complement to veteran quarterback Spencer Shanholtzer. Shanholtzer also has two lanky 6-foot-4 passing targets in Tyler Edwards and Jacob Prine.
They operate behind a huge line that averages 260 pounds and includes Joseph Andrews, Louie Bluff and 6-6, 280-pound sophomore Johnny Andrews. That’s allowed all-state lineman Kevin Villegas to concentrate mainly on defense to protect an injured hand.
“We lost four from last year but are improved mentally, and physically we’re a better team,” Finley said. “We learned from last year and grew a lot. It’s lit a fire and passion for these kids.”
Finley said Colton isn’t big but plays with great effort. He’s hoping a strong pass rush can disrupt the Wildcats’ running game and sophomore quarterback Josh Straughan.
Cusick’s size is just one of Colton coach Clark Vining’s concerns.
“I see there’s a winter storm warning for Newport Friday night,” he said.
Controlling Shanholtzer is the highest priority. Battling the Panthers’ line comes next, and weather is third.
“At this point in the season, we’re going into it doing what we’ve been doing,” Vining said.
That means giving the ball to Sam Robertson, having a line with just one 200-pound player get off the ball quickly and spreading out the field.
“I don’t know if we can stop them, but we’re hoping to contain them a bit,” Vining said.
ACH’s return is a product of contributions from Lake Roosevelt transfers, including leading rusher Dylan Tipps, coupled with the maturing of young players, four-year line starter Reid Ashley among them.
“I like to think we have a shot at this thing,” Walsh said of a team that puts run first.
They’ll face a Tri-Cities Prep team making its fourth straight state appearance behind high-powered passer Will Hoppes.
“He’s close to 11,000 yards in his career,” Walsh said. “We’ll have to do a good job of getting pressure on him and make him throw earlier than he wants to.”