University’s magic-carpet ride continues.
Two touchdowns in a space of 2 minutes at the start of the third quarter propelled the host Titans (8-4) to next weekend’s State 3A football semifinals following their 23-13 victory over visiting North Thurston (9-3) on Saturday.
The first of U-Hi’s third-quarter scores came on Adrian Bonner’s 90-yard kickoff return to open the half. Shortly thereafter Collin Deyarmin recovered a fumble at the Rams 13-yard line and four plays later U-Hi had a 21-0 lead that North Thurston couldn’t overcome.
If you read the statistics, no way were the Titans the victors. The Rams had 22 first downs to their hosts’ 11. They had 382 yards of total offense, 185 rushing and 199 through the air. By contrast the Titans gained a mere 151.
But when it came down to opportunism and will, the Titans in this postseason have been second-to-none.
“The kids played so hard,” said Rob Bartlett, who could now be considered the Titans “grizzled veteran” of this state playoff thing in just 12 games as a head coach. “I don’t think there was ever a time they didn’t think we’d get it done. We’ve talked about ‘believe, believe, believe’ this past three weeks and they do.”
U-Hi’s first score came on the final play of the first quarter when both Austin Flynn and North Thurston’s Braden Rushton went up for Jeff Beaty’s 27-yard toss to the end zone. It appeared Rushton had the interception, but Flynn, 5 inches taller, went over him from behind and plucked it from him.
“We both had it up in the air,” Flynn said. “I had more control and yanked it out. There was no way, no way I was giving that up.”
Then came Bonner’s sprint, untouched straight up the middle through North Thurston’s special teams, and defensive stalwart Deyarmin – who played for a 1B state title at Almira/Coulee-Hartline last year – who recovered the fumble that led to Beaty’s 4-yard TD run.
“That was the game,” Bartlett said.
It had come after U-Hi’s defense denied North Thurston a touchdown, stopping Dru Hicks just short of the goal following a 10-yard reception as time ran out in the first half.
Titans punter Trevor Martin four times pinned the visitors inside the 15-yard line, the Titans recovered another fumble and clinched the win on Andrew Morgan’s interception with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left to play.
“Our guys dig deep every single down,” Morgan said. “There’s no one who quits, ever.”
It’s not like University is blessed with superstars, Barlett said.
“I think everybody knows that. We just play really, really good as a team,” he said. “We have absolutely great kids who have worked their tails off for five months.”