CONNELL The winds of good fortune flew in Okanogan’s favor, 13-10, over Connell in the opening round of state Friday night.
The victory elevated the Bulldogs to the state quarterfinals against Cashmere at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Wenatchee Apple Bowl, 1101 Millerdale Ave.
“We should be the underdogs, they should be the favorite,” said Okanogan coach Erick Judd, who was named this week the Caribou Trail League’s Coach of the Year.
Cashmere reached the quarterfinals with a resounding 41-22 win over Meridian on Friday.
The Massey matchup computer at USA Today’s online site has No. 5 state-ranked Cashmere (10-1) winning by 10 on a neutral field, by 13 if home team and by 8 if unranked Okanogan (10-1) is the home team.
Although the Apple Bowl is considered a neutral field, it’s a lot closer to Cashmere (18 minutes) than to Okanogan (127 minutes).
“We’ve got to stop (running back) Rex Pittsinger (first-team CTL),” Judd said. “I think he’s averaging 5 yards a carry. If you don’t stop him, you don’t win.
“Then we have to stop quarterback Casey Reuther (CTL offensive Player of the Year) and running back Mason Elliott (second team all-league).
“We have to play real disciplined football, don’t turn the ball over and get a couple turnovers,” the coach said.
“They pack the line with a five-man front,” lineman Enrique Vargas said. “We have to find a way to hook them up or go down the middle.”
Judd said the team can’t commit 4 interceptions like it did last time the teams met in league play, where Cashmere won 49-14 on Oct. 11.
Okanogan miscues made the game against Connell (8-3) much closer than it should have been.
The Bulldogs got inside the 5-yard line three times, but could not score in the first half.
“We turned the ball over three times on downs,” the coach said. “We had too many missed blocking assignments. We have room to improve from the way we played Friday night.”
“Honestly, it could be the linemen’s fault,” Vargas said. “We could not make a hole. We will have to make holes against Cashmere.”
“I thought the penalties hurt us,” running back T.J. Morris said. “It caused us to literally kick ourselves in the butt. We needed to be more into the game mentally. We’d drive the ball and drive the ball. But when it counted we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”
“The game just started off slow. We didn’t give it much early,” Justin Rivas said. “We thought we won (against Connell) once, (we thought) we will win twice. We were just hanging around.”
As for trying field goals, Judd said, “We have quite a few kickers on the team right now, but they are dinged up because they play both ways. So we’re not kicking as well as we have in the past. We decided to score touchdowns rather than kick field goals.”
Connell scored first on a 22-yard pass early in the first quarter on a windy, cold night on the plain south of Othello.
“After that the defense played really well,” said Judd, whose team limited Connell to –12 yards into the third quarter. “That seems to be a trend with us. It takes a little bit for us to settle down.”
“It was overall a great defensive game,” Rivas said. “It came down who made the biggest play”
The big play came with 19 seconds left and Okanogan 24 yards from the end zone.
Gabe Timentwa, who plays quarterback in junior varsity games, tossed to Rivas fading to the right corner for a touchdown on fourth-and-four.
“Gabe throws a pretty good ball,” Judd said. “He has a little bit stronger arm. In the wind it’s hard to adjust to the ball. Rivas made a nice adjustment on the ball. It’s not a trick play. It’s just different guys in different positions.”
Rivas said he discussed the play with Judd, who inserted Timentwa for the four downs.
“Gabe has a better ball than I do,” Rivas said. “Jason Perez lined up on the other side. Gabe just had to make a decision.”
Timentwa, who substitutes with Rivas at strong safety on defense, said he was a little hesitant on the play because he’s been hit hard on an earlier down.
“I knew it was fourth down, so I was thinking this has to be a first down or a touchdown,” Timentwa said. “I looked at the line and they had good blocks. I saw Justin just cut to his corner.
“The wind caused the ball to rise,” the sophomore said. “I thought that’s a dangerous ball because it was up there. Then I saw Justin jump up and grab it. I was glad he caught it.”
“The wind made the ball like a duck,” Rivas said. “It was hard to adjust to, but once I got under it, it was an easy catch.”
Rivas, who started the season as a slot receiver before taking over at quarterback due to an injury to Clay Ashworth, “is good where ever you put him,” Judd said. “The wind was at our back, a cross wind all night long.”
The extra-point kick was not good by Rivas. The first try the wind caught the ball and pushed it into the left upright. After a Connell penalty, the second kick was barely wide left.
Okanogan, despite penalties and poor blocking close to the goal, kept pounding away with Morris (23-110) and Rivas (6-100).
Rivas got Okanogan, which started at the 35 after forcing Connell to punt, to the 11. Morris ran 9 yards and then powered the final 2 yards through a hole made by Vargas and Joe Mintzer with seven minutes remaining. Arturo Ramos made the PAT kick.
“You have to give the credit to the line and wing backs,” Morris said. “It’s the reason we got the running yards. They created the holes. All I had to do was find the holes.”
The only turnover in the game was an interception by Okanogan.
Okanogan scored a last-second touchdown on an interception for a 19-6 win in an earlier non-league game with Connell.
“It was a great defensive games both games,” Judd said. “Both games were extremely close.”
“Teams have killed us on the pass,” Vargas said. “We did not all that to happen this game.”
Okanogan moved the ball better against Connell; 262 yards compared to 120 the first meeting.
“We are committed in running the ball between the tackles,” the coach said.