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Lind-Ritzville/Sprague wins State 2B football crown

TACOMA – In the season’s biggest game played on the largest stage under the brightest lights, a pair of grade-school buddies made it seem like just another routine, carefree afternoon on the playground.

And in the end, everyone was carrying on and whooping it up like third-graders.

Juniors Dylan Hartz and Conner O’Neill made a handful of big plays in the clutch on the game-winning drive, and the Lind-Ritzville/Sprague defense came up with pair of key stops late as the Broncos held on to beat Morton-White Pass, 21-19, in a thrilling State 2B championship final on Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.

“I go to Ritzville, he goes to Lind,” Hartz said. “We make sure to hang out all the time.”

Trailing 19-15 with 8 minutes, 41 seconds left in the game, Hartz, the quarterback, and O’Neill, the halfback, kept the game-winning drive alive, hooking up for a 22-yard gain across the middle on fourth-and-19 from the Morton-White Pass 39-yard line.

“The plan was to throw to (O’Neill) the entire time … he’s my go-to receiver,” said Hartz, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown.

O’Neill, who led the team with five receptions for 43 yards, hauled in the pass with his defender draped on him and pushed forward for another couple yards.

“We feel like we have this team chemistry, and it seems like he’s always looking for me,” O’Neill said of his relationship with his quarterback. “I know where he’s going to put the ball.”

Two plays later, O’Neill scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes left.

The two weren’t done. On Timberwolves’ ensuing drive, Hartz made a leaping, one-handed interception at the Morton-White Pass 42-yard line to halt the drive.

“He’s instinctive,” Lind-Ritzville/Sprague coach Greg Whitmore said of Hartz. “He knows the game, and the game is a little slower for him than some of these kids. We put a lot on his shoulders, but he’ll take it all.”

But it took one more surge with 8 seconds left to put away the Timberwolves, as the Lind-Ritzville/Sprague defense forced an incompletion from their own 30-yard line.

“There were so many big plays in this (game),” Whitmore said.

Despite being outgained 285 to 182 in total offense for the game, Lind-Ritzville/Sprague (13-0) held on partially thanks to going 4 for 4 on fourth-down conversions. The Broncos also committed just two penalties for 10 yards.

“There was (a lot of) Morton-White Pass this, Morton White-Pass that (talk),” Hartz said of preseason chatter on a website that covers Class B sports. “(And that) no one is going to touch them. We were talked down all year long. No one ever had hope for us. We believed in ourselves and that’s all that mattered.”

Hartz tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Cort Ruzicka on fourth-and-goal for the Broncos’ first score. But Morton-White Pass (12-1) answered right back, putting together an eight-play, 52-yard drive. Brian Reynolds finished it with a 15-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half. Despite being outgained 205 to 71 in total yards, the Broncos only trailed 12-7 at the half.

The Broncos scored on their opening drive of the second half, taking advantage of a 56-yard kick return by Tyler Greenwalt. From the 28-yard line, the Broncos went eight plays, and Cort Ruzicka capped it off with a 3-yard touchdown run. He also caught the two-point conversion to push the lead to 15-12 with 7:57 left in the third.