What, you thought the Greater Spokane League race wasn’t going to come down to the last two weeks of the season?
Mead entered play Friday night somewhat behind the eight ball, bringing a league loss into a game with Central Valley, which was 2-0 in league entering play. But as they’ve done all season, the Panthers answered the bell – and then some.
Ryan Blair completed 20 of 25 passes for 259 yards with four touchdown passes – three to Kaveh Abghari – and Mead beat CV 35-19 in the late game at Albi Stadium on Friday.
Abghari finished with seven catches for 154 yards.
Mead’s defense came up with three interceptions, including Calvin Word’s 35-yard return for TD late in the fourth quarter which sealed the win.
“What a great team win,” Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen said. “I mean, Central Valley’s had a heck of a year. They’re very well-coached, and our guys just came ready to play and we had some really big plays, especially defense with some interceptions some turnovers. Those were – that’s what helped us win the game.”
With Ferris’ win over Gonzaga Prep on Thursday, the top of the GSL 4A standings are muddled with two games to play. All four teams have one loss to other members of the group.
Mead (5-2, 2-1) has University (1-6, 1-2) and Ferris left to play. The Bears (5-2, 2-1) host Gonzaga Prep (4-2, 2-1) and U-Hi to finish the season. Ferris (6-1, 2-1) takes on Lewis and Clark (2-5, 0-3) before its showdown with Mead, and G-Prep hosts LC on Oct. 31 to complete its slate.
In other words, it’s still anyone’s league to win and two playoff spots remain for just two teams.
“It’s the GSL,” Sonnichsen said. “I mean, what a great league we have. You know, a lot of really good teams a lot of really good coaches.”
“This is just the start right here,” Blair said. “It just shows how bad our guys want it and we want to play all the way to December.”
Mead went three-and-out on its first possession. CV moved into Mead territory, but on third-and-4 at the 5, Matt Gabbert’s pass intended for Jayce Simmons in the back of the end zone flicked off his fingertips and the Bears settled for a 22-yard Landon Rehkow field goal.
Mead turned it over on downs and CV’s next possession resulted in a touchback on a punt. Two plays later, Blair hit Abghari on a stop-and-go play for a 75-yard touchdown and 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
“It was kind of supposed to be a post, but it was thrown kind of behind me, so I kinda had to stop a little bit to split the safety in the corner,” Abghari said.
Gabbert tried to find Carsen Raab on a deep crossing route, but Kyler Carlson made a leaping interception and Mead took over at its 47.
After the pick, Mead had third-and-inches and handed to 6-foot-2, 245-pound lineman Trace Franks playing the upback. He picked up 10 yards and a personal foul at the end of the play gave Mead a first down at the CV 18.
“We put that in (the game plan) Thursday before the game,” Franks said. “Coach put me at fullback and I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ ”
On third-and-goal at the 2, Blair found Hunter Marler on a swing pass for the score and a 14-3 lead with 2 minutes left in the half.
The Bears were the beneficiary of a pass interference call, then Gabbert connected with Carter Childress down to the Mead 18.
On third-and-10 at the 18, Gabbert scrambled to his left and fired to Raab in the back of the end zone with 4 seconds left for the score. The extra point was no good and the Bears trailed 14-9 at intermission.
CV moved to midfield on its first drive of the second half, but a fumble set up Mead at its 47. Wiersma made a circus catch for 30 yards down to the CV 23, then Blair hit Abghari on a slant for a 23-yard TD pass and a 21-9 lead.
Rehkow booted a 30-yard field goal to make it 21-12 with a little more than 3 minutes in the third quarter.
CV forced a three-and-out, but Mead linebacker Parker Startin stepped in front of the receiver for a pick and took it to the CV 29. The Panthers couldn’t punch it in, and a missed 33-yard field goal gave CV the ball at its 20 with 10:39 to go.
Gabbert connected with Raab on a 43-yard completion to the Mead 34. On third-and-2 at the 4, Gabbert found Conner Russell for a touchdown, making it a two-point game with 6:56 left.
But Mead moved right down the field. Abghari made a terrific catch on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Blair, putting the Panthers up 28-19 with 4:40 to go.
“I don’t know how he caught that one on that sideline over that kid’s helmet,” Wiersma said. “That was incredible.”
“He just came up big,” Blair said of Abghari. “He really had a fire in him tonight. I love it.”
Three plays later, Word picked off Gabbert and made his way down the sideline 35 yards for a score and a 35-19 lead with just more than 4 minutes to play.