MOSCOW, Idaho – It had to play out this way.
As much misfortune as the Coeur d’Alene Vikings – and specifically the Amoses – have endured the last half of the football season, something good had to go their way.
It did in a dramatic way Friday as the Vikings knocked off the No. 1-ranked Highland Rams 31-28 for the Idaho 5A championship before an estimated 5,500 at the Kibbie Dome.
Sophomore quarterback Austin Lee, pressed into starting duty when senior Gunnar Amos broke an ankle two weeks ago, scored from 15 yards out with 47 seconds left to complete an emotional comeback.
CdA’s defense responded by stopping the Rams to secure a third state championship in the last four years.
“We needed a little good luck; we’ve been dealing with a lot of bad luck,” CdA coach Shawn Amos said. “It’s a real testament to this program and these kids and these coaches.
“The amount of pride from our kids is unbelievable.”
Highland took what would prove to be its final lead with 2:29 to go in the third quarter at 28-24 when Tamalli Campbell hauled in a 64-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Jewell.
Then as the game progressed into the middle of the fourth quarter, Amos and the Viks wondered if they’d get a final chance.
Highland was facing a fourth-and-1 at CdA’s 49-yard line and instead of going for the first down the Rams elected to punt.
Rams coach Gino Mariani was sure his defense would stop CdA.
Taking over at its 20, CdA used six plays to move 80 yards. Lee completed two passes to Chase Blakley, the last one for 28 yards that advanced the Vikings to Highland’s 43.
Two plays later, Addison Johnson hauled in a 5-yard pass, and as he sprinted to the sideline to get out of bounds, a Highland player hit him late, prompting an unsportsmanlike penalty.
That advanced the Viks to Highland’s 15.
The Viks’ next play was supposed to be a pass, but when Lee saw a blitzing linebacker approaching, he sidestepped him and headed for the end zone.
“We were trying to (pass the ball) out of bounds and a linebacker got through and I just took off and got in the end zone,” Lee said. “I was just so happy for Shawn Amos and Gunnar Amos, the team, the seniors. We’ve been through some adversity. It was awesome.”
Until the end, the Viks defense hadn’t done much stopping – at least in terms of defending the pass. But CdA coach Shawn Amos said the plan was to make the Rams, who rallied for a 24-21 win over visiting CdA in late September, pass and abandon the run.
To that end, the Viks (9-3) limited the Rams (11-1) to 42 yards rushing. But Highland piled up 426 yards passing.
It wasn’t the cleanest played game. The teams each committed three turnovers in the first half.
The costly one to Highland was an ill-advised shovel pass that appeared tipped and then corralled by CdA’s Jackson Carlson, who returned it 64 yards for a touchdown that extended the Viks’ lead to 14-7 with 8:56 to go before half.
“I was supposed to be blitzing from the outside and from film I noticed they like to run shovel to the strong side,” Carlson said. “I saw them all jumbled up in between. One of the guys took out the running back and it (the pass) just went high and tipped off his fingers (and) I took it to the house.”
Shawn Amos has much respect for Highland.
“Highland is one heckuva football program,” Amos said. “Those are two evenly matched teams.”
Mariani expected a better played game.
“It was some pretty ugly football if you ask me,” the Highland coach said. “It wasn’t well-played early on with all the turnovers. Both teams settled down in the second half and it got to be a back-and-forth battle.”