It’s generally difficult to read Mt. Spokane football coach Mike McLaughlin’s face following a win or a loss.
McLaughlin was his usual unflappable self Thursday but inside he was more than satisfied as his Wildcats knocked off slight preseason favorite Central Valley 35-16 in a Greater Spokane League game at Joe Albi Stadium.
He bemoaned the first-half mistakes – things that handcuffed the Wildcats from a faster start. But Mt. Spokane (3-0) wrested momentum in the first 11 seconds of the second half when Roy Hyatt returned the kickoff 90 yards to extend a lead to 14-3.
“That got the momentum going a little bit,” McLaughlin said.
Five minutes later, the Bears (1-2) pulled within four at 14-10 on a 4-yard touchdown run.
The Wildcats scored three of the final four touchdowns, and CV never had a chance the final quarter.
“I don’t think it’s been as much progressing as it’s been continuing our play,” McLaughlin said. “(The first half) was probably as sloppy as we’ve played in the first three games. It’s been a matter of execution and believing and playing hard in the fourth quarter.”
The Wildcats got a big lift from senior quarterback Stu Stiles, who returned after serving a two-week athletic code violation.
Stiles scored on his fourth carry, a 33-yard dash in which he was barely touched. Then he capped a big drive midway in the fourth quarter when he darted up the middle on a 13-yard score to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 28-10 with 6:11 remaining.
CV scored its final TD to pull within eight at 28-16 with 2:49 to go.
Mt. Spokane’s Jacob Yedica, who recovered two fumbles earlier in the game, scooped up the ensuing onside kick.
As the Wildcats were trying to kill the clock, Dakota Hipes zipped up the gut for a 39-yard TD for the final score with 1:01 remaining.
“I’m real proud of these guys,” McLaughlin said. “They deserve it, they’ve worked really hard and everyone contributed.”
Stiles finished with 106 yards rushing on 14 carries and completed 6 of 11 passes for 97 yards.
“Stu complements our offense,” McLaughlin said. “He didn’t do anything special. It’s the kids around him that are blocking for him. And he was able to make some things happen.”
Stiles said he felt a big weight was lifted off his shoulders following his team’s wins in the first two weeks.
“We really struggled in the first half. We could have been way sharper,” Stiles said. “The second half we really turned it on and cleaned up some things.”
Stiles is looking forward to playing in his first Battle of the Bell next week against district rival Mead. He missed the first two with broken collarbones.
He praised the play of his teammates, especially the offensive line.
“The holes they opened up were great,” Stiles said. “This felt great. There are always things we can go back and fix.”