James Thompkins accepted a hug from an admirer, and stepped back for inspection.
“Look at how clean my jersey is,” he marveled.
Ward Maurer Field at West Valley High School was well-muddied from a steady midafternoon rain, but Thompkins’ uniform was indeed still mostly white, which will happen when a player isn’t tackled very often.
Waitsburg-Prescott’s fleet wide receiver turned two short passes into long, untouched touchdown sprints and the defending State 2B football champions took another step toward the Gridiron Classic with a 39-12 romp over undermanned Reardan in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
A 2011 playoff rematch with Lind-Ritzville/Sprague awaits the 11-1 Cardinals, while Reardan finishes its season 8-3 – and eagerly awaits 2013.
“We only have four seniors and it’s going to be real tough to replace them because they never come off the field,” said Indians coach Eric Nikkola. “But I’m hoping to be at this level next year, if not another step.”
Reardan isn’t taking that step this year simply because they fell too many steps behind the Cardinals on Saturday.
On the game’s first snap, in fact, Thompkins collected a quick pass from quarterback Stirling Eastman on a tunnel screen, darted behind another Cardinal receiver and simply ran away from his pursuers, zipping 71 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“The speed of that team,” allowed Nikkola, “surprised our guys a little bit.”
It didn’t help that the Indians had to scramble on Friday to replace a half-dozen players suspended for violations of team rules, including several defensive backs.
But Eastman and his targets have been tough on a lot of teams; last week he was 11 of 11 against Oroville.
This day, he was 16 of 23, with one interception, for 366 yards. Coach Jeff Bartlow had sweated out the weather report uncertain if the Cardinals would be able air it out as much as they like, but was happy to note that at kickoff, “It’s like we’re in the Bahamas.”
So throw the Cardinals did. Eastman had two completions of more than 20 yards in the scoring drive that made it 14-0, and then came Thompkins again on another screen, this time juking a defender and escaping on a 55-yarder.
The Indians are a wishbone running team, and Bartlow pointed out “a team like that is going to be in a fix” with a three-touchdown deficit.
Nevertheless, Reardan clawed back – first on a 63-yard touchdown run by Nathan Sorci, and then with an impressive third-quarter drive that included three third-down conversions and cut the lead to 27-12.
But two plays later, Roy Ebong got behind the Reardan defense for a 55-yard touchdown reception, and two interceptions by the Cardinal defense pre-empted any drama.