Not all that long ago, a belief existed in Washington state small-school football circles that finesse-only Cascade Christian could not stop a 2-yard run — even if its life depended on it.
Well, folks, the Cougars did — and it won them the Class 1A state championship Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
The outcome came down to a very determined senior running back — Colville’s Colton Vining — being brought down by a pair of senior defenders — Cascade Christian’s Mason Tobeck and Damon Davis — at the half-yard line on a two-point conversion try.
The No. 1 Cougars (13-0) stopped the attempt, finishing off a dramatic 27-26 overtime thriller over the third-ranked Indians to win their second 1A title in school history.
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“Those were just two good teams that didn’t want to back down,” Cascade Christian coach Randy Davis said. “It was like a heavyweight fight — who is going to blink, and who is going to go down?”
Unfortunately for Colville (12-1), Vining did go down — just short of that school celebrating its first state football championship.
First came the end of regulation.
It appeared the Cougars were coming back from a 20-13 fourth-quarter deficit. Jaelin Goldsmith had tied the game on a 58-yard quarterback keeper with 8 minutes, 17 seconds to go, and was leading the offense back down the field in the final minutes.
But on third down, Goldsmith’s pass was picked off by Tyler Ward at the Indians 15, and returned 45 yards into Cougars’ territory..
Colville had an opportunity to win it with six seconds remaining, but Mark Kharchenko pushed his 35-yard field goal attempt wide right.
In overtime, Cascade Christian had first possession and marched 25 yards in six plays. Robert Terhune capped it with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to give the Cougars a 27-20 lead.
Using the Kansas tiebreaker, both offenses get at least one possession and the team scoring the greater number of points in overtime is declared the winner.
The Indians got their chance, converted a fourth-and-1 on Vining’s 7-yard scamper and scored on the tailback’s fourth touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run.
Trailing 27-26, Colville kept the offense on the field for the conversion attempt — something the 1A Northeast League champions have done all season.
“For the year, we were at 65 percent converting two-point (conversions),” Indians coach Randy Cornwell said. “It took the gut-wrenching decision out of the (final) play.”
Cornwell called the team’s go-to run — a short pitch run off-tackle for Vining, the 1A Northeast player of the year who finished with 136 yards on 23 carries in the game.
And that is when rubber met the road.
The Cougars’ defense had been getting blasted on off-tackle to the left side — enough that they shifted run-plugging defensive lineman Hunter Murfitt to the right side.
Cornwell sensed Cascade Christian would call for an adjustment, so he countered by calling an off-tackle run right with Vining.
The only downside would mean Vining would be running right to the side of Tobeck and Damon Davis, the two senior linebackers.
“I knew (Vining) had the ball,” Damon Davis said. “My buddy Riley (Ramos) was like, ‘Hey, he wants to cut it back.’ So I lined up and waited for him, and I saw him scraping down the line.”
Tobeck saw Vining, but not the football right away. He did not hesitate to grab the running back’s legs anyway.
“I saw (Vining) go down,” Tobeck said. “And Damon was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we just won the state championship.’ ”
As hard a runner as there is in the state — especially given his modest size of 5-foot-7, 175 pounds Vining charged into both guys and did his best to cross the goal line. He fell a few inches short.
“They did a great job of plugging the hole right where it needed to be plugged,” Vining said. “From there, it was just a battle. It was dang close, that’s all I know.”
For this core of eight Cascade Christian seniors, who were part of the 28-7 loss to Connell in the 1A title game in 2011, this was sweet redemption. The Cougars outgained Colville on offense 461-291 and rushed for 336 yards.
But it was the yards the Indians did not get that decided this game.
“I will go with Mason and Damon any day, no matter how beat up they are, or if they have broken arms — I am going with them,” Goldsmith said. “I mean, I have been on the other side. They know how it feels, too. They did not want to go out like that again.”