CHEHALIS — Lucky and relieved.
Both words described the
No. 2-ranked Tumwater Thunderbirds after their 35-28 2A Evergreen Conference victory over sixth-ranked W.F. West at Bearcat Stadium – a win that kept the T-Birds undefeated despite five turnovers and not having the lead until the second half.
And it wasn’t over until the final play, when Gabe Gleizes intercepted Bearcats quarterback Tanner Gueller in the end zone – his second interception of the game – with 26 seconds remaining and W.F. West trailing by a touchdown.
“I was watching (Gueller’s) eyes and watching which way he was going,” Gleizes said, “and then I just jumped it.”
The T-Birds were quick to note it wasn’t their best performance, especially for a midseason showdown with one of the better offensive teams they will see this season. Tumwater (5-0 overall, 2-0 2A EvCo) turned the ball over five times – all lost fumbles – yet trailed only 21-20 at halftime.
Gleizes said the team’s never-give-up mentality prevailed.
“That’s our thing: next snap next play, flush it. Play the next play,” he said.
All three of the Bearcats’ first-half touchdowns came after Tumwater turnovers, and twice led to field position deep in the Tumwater territory – at the 2- and 13-yard lines.
Tumwater’s defense forced W.F. West to punt inside 4 minutes left in the first half, but a muffed catch was recovered by the Bearcats. It gave them a fresh set of downs and an eventual 9-yard touchdown reception by Alex Cox, his second of the half.
In its previous four victories, Tumwater never trailed at halftime, and despite not scoring in the fourth quarter, the T-Birds used two third-quarter touchdowns – Easton Trakel’s
36-yard run and Gleizes’ 48-yard interception return for a touchdown – to take command, 35-21 at the 5:04 mark.
But back came W.F. West, led by Gueller.
After Toby Johnson’s 63-yard touchdown catch – his second of the game – that cut W.F. West’s deficit to 35-28, the Bearcats (4-1, 0-1) took their next possession and drove 64 yards in less than four minutes.
With 33 seconds left, the Bearcats had a first-and-10 at the Tumwater 16. As time ticked down, Gueller rolled to his right and fired into the end zone, but Gleizes was there for the interception that sealed the victory.
Gueller, who hadn’t thrown an interception in four previous games, was sacked by Tumwater’s defense four times.
Christian Cummings was nearly a one-man show on offense for the T-Birds, accounting for three first-half touchdowns on runs of 63, 23, and 2 yards. He had 134 yards on 11 carries by halftime and finished with a game-high 178 yards.