Sometimes it’s the little things that come up big.
When Cheney punter Cruz Galm’s kick died at the Sandpoint two-yard line with 2:19 left in the first half Friday night, it might not have seemed significant at the moment. In just a short 87 seconds, it would become huge.
The reason is the visiting Bulldogs fumbled on their own 29, giving the Blackhawks a chance to cut into a 3-0 deficit before intermission. Quarterback Andrew Graham’s 28-yard scramble on second and 10 to the one, and his subsequent 1-yard plunge for the score and 7-3 lead gave Cheney the momentum heading into the locker room, and they took advantage of it in the second half en route to a 28-10 win Friday at Tom Oswald Field.
The Blackhawks defense also loomed large in the first half, stiffening on three drives where Sandpoint’s trap plays seemed to be running over and through Cheney virtually at will. The Blackhawks forced the Bulldogs to turn the ball over twice on downs inside Cheney territory, and allowed a Quinn Pearlstein 20-yard field goal on the other.
“We shored that up and I thought we did a better job in the second half,” head coach Jason Williams said of their halftime adjustments.
The Blackhawks also finally got things going on offense in the final 24 minutes. Graham scored again from the one, set up by Austin Kline’s 52-yard run, for a 14-3 lead.
After a missed Cheney field goal, Shane Hammel picked off a Nate Loutzenhiser pass that set up a 1-yard TD run by Kline, putting the Blackhawks up 21-3 heading into the fourth. In the final period, Brayden Butikofer’s 6-yard TD run put the game out of reach, sending Cheney to a 4-1 mark overall, 0-1 in the Great Northern League.
“It was a good bounce back game for us,” Williams said. Cheney entered having suffered its first defeat, 29-26 to Pullman after leading the Greyhounds 26-14 with seven minutes left in the game.
The Blackhawks now face a big game this Friday, traveling to East Valley to take on the pre-season league champion favorite Knights. East Valley, 3-2, 2-0 is tied with Pullman for the GNL’s top spot, having posted back-to-back shutouts of Clarkston and Colville. They also have a win over Sandpoint and a loss to Lakeland, opponents the Blackhawks are 2-0 against.
Williams said the Knights still run a standard I formation offensively, relying on trap plays, but do it now out of a shotgun or pistol formation, looking for quarterback Connor Ramm to throw it up as often as needed to two big receiving targets in J.T Phelan and Gage Burland. Defensively they run a 4-3 front, cover four in the back, similar to what Eastern Washington runs, bringing pressure from the outside.
Williams said regardless of what the Knights do his team will be ready for the game with a pretty confident archrival, and is looking towards a physical contest.
“We’ll be amped up too,” he said. “For us it would be huge (a win). It would put us right back in the spot we need to be in.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.