By JOHN McCALLUM
If it weren't for one big, last minute play in last Saturday's Cheney-East Valley (Yakima) game at the Kickoff Classic, the Blackhawks and Red Devils might still be playing.
The mistake-filled, defensive battle mixed with moments of offensive brilliance appeared headed for overtime when East Valley senior quarterback Jordan West found running back David Garza on a flare pass to the left sideline. The senior turned up field, evaded a couple Cheney tacklers and sprinted down East Valley's sideline past dancing teammates 71 yards for what proved to be the winning score in East Valley's 12-6 victory.
Cheney had a last chance to tie it. The Blackhawks got the ball at their own 34 with 34 seconds remaining, and with a couple Andrew Graham to Eric Igbinoba pass completions, moved to the East Valley 43 with 14 seconds left, but got no closer.
“Overall I was pretty pleased with the effort,” head coach Jason Williams said. “We weathered the storm and got into some situations that it's hard to simulate in practice.”
One of those situations came in the second quarter – three times in fact. Cheney mistakes gave the Red Devils the ball three consecutive possessions inside the Blackhawks' 25 yard line.
A fumbled punt put East Valley on the Cheney 21, but the drive came up short when West's run on fourth and goal at the 3 was stopped six inches shy of the goal line. Cheney's possession ended in a punt at their own 7 – a kick that sliced out of bounds at the 15.
The Blackhawks' defense again held, with senior defensive back Calvin Berstler picking off West on fourth and 4 at the 5. Cheney couldn't move the ball, and the subsequent punt bounced near the Cheney 30 and was downed on the 18.
This time the Red Devils made the short field pay off, with running back Oscar Martinez scoring from 2 yards out on third down for a 6-0 lead with 2:51 to play in the half.
With better field position after the kickoff the Cheney offense mounted a drive from their 35, the big play coming on a 23-yard Graham to Coleman White pass and run to the East Valley 10. A pass interference call gave Cheney a first and goal at the 5, but a false start penalty and three incompletions/drops led to a 27-yard Theo Petropoulos field goal just before the half. Petropoulos also added a 46-yarder that tied the score with 10:45 to play in the game.
Mistakes kept the Blackhawks out of the end zone on several occasions. On its first possession Graham hit Berstler on a 55-yard completion down the left sideline to the East Valley 16. Igbinoba scored on a middle screen three plays later, but it was negated by an ineligible player downfield penalty and Petropoulos' subsequent 38-yard attempt was blocked.
On the first possession of the third quarter the Blackhawks marched to the East Valley 30, where running back Marquis Allen had the ball knocked out on a run up the middle on second and 5, with the Red Devils recovering on their 17. And after East Valley's subsequent punt the Blackhawks drove to the Red Devils 24 where Petropoulos 41-yard attempt came up short.
Williams chalked up the miscues to the inexperience resulting from starting seven new players on both offense and defense. Add in the atmosphere of the Kickoff Classic, which was televised, and Cheney pretty much suffered a case of nerves in its first game.
“If that's the worst it gets, I'll take it,” Williams said. “At least I can look at it and it's not a personnel problem.”
Cheney opens play at Tom Oswald Field this Friday night, taking on 1A Omak at 7 p.m. The Pioneers lost 39-0 in non-league play to Lynden Christian Aug. 31.
“They (Omak) play in the Caribou League and that's a pretty good league,” Williams said. “We just need to get our stuff cleaned up and take care of business.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.