PASCO – They swapped momentum like a live grenade, Cusick and defending champion Liberty Christian.
Chris Reynolds’ touchdown on a 92-yard kickoff return and Alec Bluff’s score on a 55-yard interception came just a minute-and-a-half apart, sparking 34 unanswered Cusick points to close a State 1B play-in game at Chiawana High School on Saturday.
The ferocious finishing kick erased a 20-point deficit and secured a 54-40 victory for the Panthers (8-2). The win sets up a quarterfinal showdown against top-ranked, undefeated Neah Bay at 1 p.m. Saturday at South Kitsap High School in Silverdale.
“That was just like in a movie,” said Bluff. “We came back against the defending champs. We were looking for ’em all year, we’re not even ranked. … We came out and handled business.”
The win avenged a 34-32 loss to Liberty Christian in last year’s state semifinals, an outcome that has fueled these Panthers throughout the fall.
It took two-plus quarters for that preparation to manifest itself. Before its late burst, Cusick had spotted Liberty Christian a quick 16-0 lead, then squandered a 20-16 halftime advantage by surrendering a trio of explosive scoring plays and falling behind 40-20 with under 20 minutes left in the game.
That’s when Reynolds fielded a line-drive kickoff at his own 8-yard line and shot up the Cusick sideline.
“Even before Chris took it back all the way, I knew we could come back,” said Panthers junior Eli Peterson, who rushed for 87 yards and a pair of second-half TDs. “As soon as we lost to them last year, I told myself we’d come back the next year and beat them.”
Reynolds’ return and a successful conversion run by Cusick QB Tyson Shanholtzer (15-of-23 passing, 221 yards, two TDs) made it 40-28 with 2:59 left.
Colfax 22, White Swan 14: Mark Webber tossed a pair of TD passes and Austin Getz scored on a 60-yard punt return to carry the visiting Bulldogs over the Cougars.
Rosalia 60, Republic 32: Clay Shelton ran for four TDs and Craig Nelson added three rushing scores to power the visiting Spartans to a victory over the Tigers.