Cheney defense helps build 20-0 lead, preserves it for victory
Three first quarter interceptions led to three Cheney touchdowns, which was all the Blackhawks needed to notch a 20-14 home-win over Clarkston in last Friday night's season finale.
The first pick came on the Bantams' second possession when senior RC Reed hauled in a Cole Copeland pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, returning the ball to the Clarkston 40. A block in the back penalty gave Cheney the ball at midfield, and a steady diet of Austin Kline runs culminated in senior quarterback Andrew Graham's 1-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead with 6:40 to play in the quarter.
The second interception came at the hands of Ryan Ward, who returned Copeland's third and long pass to the Clarkston 26. Logan Clayden scampered 10 yards for a Blackhawks first down, and Kline finished off the drive with a 1-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead at the 2:56 mark.
Cheney's third pick might have been the most entertaining of the night. Going for a first down on fourth and six at the Clarkston 47, Copeland's pass was again tipped at the line of scrimmage, this time in the direction of senior defensive tackle Josh Arthur.
Arthur tipped the ball several times like a violinist playing an Antonio Vivaldi concerto solo, eventually hauling in the errant throw and lumbering to near the Bantams' 40. A hit by Clarkston's Bruno Foust knocked the ball from Arthur's hands, and it luckily bounced out of bounds at the 37.
Graham finished off Cheney's scoring opportunity with a 10-yard quarterback draw to put Cheney up 20-0 with 8:37 to play before the half. Clarkston managed to finally hold onto the ball and mount a drive on their next possession, but the drive sputtered out when Cheney defenders forced Copeland out of bounds on a roll out to the left on fourth and goal at the 5.
Cheney mounted a final drive before the half from there, moving to the Clarkston 16 where senior Cruz Galm's field goal attempt was unsuccessful. Head coach Jason Williams said the Blackhawks "let off the gas offensively" and Clarkston took advantage, scoring on senior backup quarterback Foust's 29-yard TD pass to make it 20-7 in the third quarter.
Clarkston's final score
Shane Hammel's interception, Cheney's fourth of the evening, thwarted another Clarkston drive in the third quarter. The Bantams' final score came after a Cheney fumble in the final two minutes gave them the short field, setting up running back Carson Holman's 2-yard run.
"Our game plan all week was to play consistent and finish strong," Williams said of the season finale.
Cheney ends with a 3-3 Great Northern League mark, 7-3 overall, and their third consecutive winning season and fourth in the last five years. The Blackhawks lose 14 seniors, but should return an experienced crop of juniors and a number of sophomores who saw plenty of playing time in an injury-plagued season.
"It was a season of kids playing really hard and competing and a lot of guys getting to play," Williams said. "Now, we've just got to keep everybody healthy."
Cheney missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and can point back to crucial losses against Pullman, where Cheney led by 12 points with 7:49 to play, and at Colville as signs of what might have been. While disappointing, Williams felt the Clarkston win could serve the Blackhawks in the long run.
"Sometimes you get a win at the end of the year and everybody gets fired up for playoffs next year," he said.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.