Trailing by four points and facing a fourth-and-18 play late in the game, Lind-Ritzville/Sprague coach Greg Whitemore had a choice to make in the Class 2B state championship game against Morton-White Pass.
He chose to trust his playmakers, namely quarterback Dylan Hartz and running back Conner O’Neill.
Whitemore’s trust in Hartz and O’Neill paid off when they led the second-ranked Broncos to a 21-19 win over the No. 1 Timberwolves on Friday in the Tacoma Dome.
On fourth down and trailing 19-15, Hartz threw a 24-yard completion to O’Neill for a first down. Two plays later, O’Neill scored from 4 yards out with two minutes remaining to give the Broncos (13-0) the lead for good.
“They’re gutsy players, they never give up,” Whitmore said.
“The bigger the venue, the bigger the moment. You know he’s going to make a big play,” Whitmore said, referring to Hartz.
O’Neill will be forgiven if he shows up at school Monday a little bleary-eyed.
“I’m not going to be able to sleep for a few days,” O’Neill said.
The Timberwolves weren’t done. A blocked punt gave Morton-White Pass the ball 31 yards from on the Broncos goal with 4 seconds remaining, but a final pass fell incomplete, giving the state title to Lind-Ritzville/Sprague.
Cort Ruzicka scored two touchdowns for the Broncos. Ruzicka caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Hartz to give the Broncos a 7-6 lead in the first quarter.
Ruzicka scored on a 3-yard run then caught the two-point conversion pass from Hartz in the second quarter to give Lind-Ritzville/Sprague a 15-12 halftime lead.
A 33-yard touchdown pass from Rylon Kolb to Gianni Bertucci gave the Timberwolves a 19-15 lead in the third quarter.
Kolb’s 12-yard run less than two minutes into the game gave Morton-White Pass a 6-0 lead.
The Timberwolves’ Ben Wright sacked Hartz for an 8-yard loss to put the Broncos in the fourth-and-18 hole before Hartz’s key completion to O’Neill.
The Broncos were outgained, 285-182.
A key for Lind-Ritzville/Sprague was the Broncos’ kick for one PAT as well as Ruzicka’s two-point conversion. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, missed one PAT and failed on an attempt to run for a two-point conversion.