The Medical Lake football team learned a valuable lesson enduring its first loss a couple of weeks ago on the road at Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
And Cardinals head coach Wes Hobbs thinks they took what they learned and used it well in last Friday’s 35-20 Northeast A League victory over previously undefeated Newport at Holliday Field.
Medical Lake (1-0 NEA, 2-1 overall) got a pair of touchdowns from Jackson Tappero and single scores from TJ Johnson, Cory Wagner and Jordan Calero. Tappero led the ground game for both teams with 30 carries and 202 net yards.
Hobbs pointed to the Cardinals’ 28-16 non-league loss at Bonners Ferry as what might be an early wake-up call and potential turning point for his team. “Sure it was a loss but it was a heck of a learning tool.”
With the quick start the vastly improved Grizzlies showed, it appeared that it might have been along night for the Cards, especially for the secondary. Strong-armed Newport quarterback Ryan Rapp scrambled just long enough on a third and 17 to get receiver Jeron Konkright behind the coverage to make a spectacular one-handed grab with 4 minutes, 18 seconds to play in the opening quarter for a 7-0 lead.
“The thing that we always stress to our defensive backs when a guy is scrambling like on that fourth and a trillion yards, whatever it was, you have to stay in coverage,” Hobbs said.
But any failings his team showed on that play, the thing Hobbs liked was “At least we kept answering, that was a big deal.”
They answered quickly, and with some flash.
TJ Johnson capped a 3-minute drive with his 24-yard catch and run where a quick juke-move shook his defender freeing him for the score that tied it 7-7 with 1:43 remaining in the opening quarter.
Newport took a gamble - and the lead - on a broken play with 8:42 to go in the half when Rapp scrambled out of a couple of potential sacks on fourth and goal from the Medical Lake eight. He found Konkright completely uncovered in the left side of the end zone for a 13-7 lead after the extra-point failed.
The botched PAT was, perhaps, just the start of trouble for the Grizzlies on a night where the full moon shown bright at first, but later peeked through the high cloud deck.
Medical Lake quarterback Wagner capped a drive of just over five minutes with bootleg from four yards out. Taylor Masteller’s kick was good and the Cardinals regained a lead they would never relinquish.
“When he has an opportunity to run, and, or throw I think we’re a little better off,” Hobbs said of his sophomore signal caller.
Newport’s previously effective passing game came up empty as Medical Lake’s defense improved its pass rush and forced Rapp into key incompletions in the next two series prior to the half. For the game, Rapp was 15-for-30 for 239 yards, but 68 of that total came on the two touchdowns.
The visitors received the second-half kickoff and had a chance to regain their early swagger. But they touched the ball just briefly. Thomas Nix recovered the fumble on the Newport 33 and that set up the first of Tappero’s two scores just 1:05 into the third for a 21-13 Cardinal lead.
The Grizzlies’ grip failed once again on the ensuing kickoff as the purposeful short kick again glanced off a Newport player and was collected by Isiah Farmen from Medical Lake. That set up what Hobbs called “Probably the biggest score we had.”
After that drive stalled with a fourth down on the 4-yard line, the Cardinals were left to settle for a field goal. Newport, however, jumped off sides moving the ball to the two, but no first down. Gambling that he’d either pin the Grizzlies deep, or get a backbreaking score, Hobbs sent the offense back out.
Wagner found Calero undefended in the flat with a 2-yard touchdown toss for a 28-14 lead. “I don’t think they had anyone within 10 yards of him,” Hobbs said. Wagner was a perfect 5-for-5 for 84 yards and no interceptions.
Newport answered with Konkright’s third touchdown catch 2:30 later to close it to 28-20.
Johnson’s big kickoff return to the 43 set up a four-play drive that took just 1:28 and finished with Tappero’s second score, an 18-yard run with 3:04 remaining in the third. “That was huge,” Hobbs said.
From there the Medical Lake defense took over. Bradley Norris, Ian O’Brien and Tappero combined to sack Rapp on a fourth down play as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked off. Steven Velasquez made a diving interception to halt another drive with 7:04 to play. Moments earlier Velasquez had another pick wiped out by a penalty.
Next up is Riverside Friday night in Chattaroy at 7 p.m. The Rams are 2-1 with two straight wins – 21-16 over Great Northern League Deer Park and 27-21 over Kettle Falls – following a 27-14 loss to Timberlake.
“They spread you all over the field,” Hobbs said. “We have to dominate the line of scrimmage if we’re going to get after these guys.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.