It wasn’t the way Mt. Spokane coach Mike McLaughlin scripted it, but it turned out to be a wakeup jolt nonetheless.
University stunned Mt. Spokane by scoring two touchdowns in the game’s opening 6 minutes.
It took a while but the Wildcats eventually had an answer. It came in the form of four straight touchdowns in a 13-minute span as Mt. Spokane wrested control on its way to a 48-35 victory in the State 3A first-round game Friday at Albi Stadium.
Mt. Spokane (10-1) advances to the quarterfinals and will travel to either Kamiakin (10-0) or Kelso (7-3) next Saturday. Kelso plays at Kamiakin today.
“That’s either the second or third time we’ve been behind this year,” McLaughlin said. “To come out (down) 14-0 and respond like that is a credit to these kids. They’ve done it all year long. They’ve believed and they’ve made plays when they’ve had to. It’s a microcosm of how our season’s been.”
In the middle of Mt. Spokane’s offensive explosion was junior utility back Chase Naccarato, who scored five touchdowns – three rushing, two receiving. He, too, didn’t expect the slow start.
“We expected to come out fired up and put them down right away and obviously that didn’t happen,” Naccarato said. “We came from behind and proved we could do it again and proved that we belong in the playoffs.”
Mt. Spokane has scored 110 points in two postseason games. And it’s a good thing because the Wildcats have allowed 35 in each game.
Even though U-Hi (6-5) trailed 28-14 at halftime, the Titans were just one stop and a touchdown away from making it difficult for the Wildcats.
Three times the Titans drove inside the Wildcats’ 20-yard line and three times U-Hi came away scoreless. Finally, on the fourth time deep into Mt. Spokane territory the Titans broke through when senior running back Jory Zettle scored from a yard out to pull U-Hi within 28-21 with 4:11 to go in the third quarter.
The Titans had a chance to tighten things up further after forcing Mt. Spokane to punt on the next series. But the Wildcats’ defense stepped up, forcing a U-Hi punt.
Then two plays later, the speedy Naccarato got outside on a fly sweep, sprinting 39 yards and busting a couple of tackles as the Wildcats pulled away 35-21 with 33 seconds left in the third period.
U-Hi, which fell 42-23 to Mt. Spokane in league play, moved within a TD again on its next possession. Four carries by Zettle resulted in a 7-yard TD run. Suddenly, Mt. Spokane’s lead was 35-28 with 10:47 remaining.
Mt. Spokane had an answer again, and the Wildcats needed just two plays for their reply. Quarterback Carson Blumenthal hit Naccarato on a wide screen, and he went 68 yards for a 42-28 lead.
The teams exchanged a TD each in the final 10 minutes.
Zettle finished with a 247 yards on 31 carries, a career high by a yard.
“We got off to a good start like we wanted to,” U-Hi coach Bill Diedrick said, “but man, we didn’t expect the door to slam like it did with four quick ones. We battled back but we couldn’t ever get that one that got away.”
Naccarato had 120 yards rushing on nine carries and five receptions for 159.
“We survived another week,” Naccarato said. “They (the Titans) had a great effort, way better than we expected.”
The teams combined for 919 yards total offense – Mt. Spokane with 482 and U-Hi with 437.
“It was a lot better effort this week,” Naccarato said of the Wildcats’ defense. “We still need to clean some things up for next week and we should be good to go.”