The Chewelah Cougars (5-1, 3-0) went into their game at Medical Lake (5-1, 3-1) last Friday knowing the winner would be in no worse than a tie for first place in the Northeast A League after that nightâ€™s game. The Cougars built big first half lead and managed to hold on for a 33-28 win.
Jenkins High and Freeman are tied atop the NEA standings this week. ML is one game back.
â€śIt was a big win for us,â€ť said head coach Jim Fisk, â€śI thought, as a team, we played well, Medical Lake is a good team--the best weâ€™ve played in our league this year.â€ť
The Cardinals were able to make some yardage early in the game with the run, but the Cougars were able to adjust. After the first quarter, the Cougars held the Medical Lake offense in check.
â€śTheir (option) offense is quite a bit different than the last few weâ€™ve faced, but once the kids got used to the speed at which they (ML) ran their offense, we did okay,â€ť Fisk pointed out.
The opportunistic Chewelah defense had three interceptions--Caleb Wiebe, Derek Smith and Ty Curtis all pulled in one, while on the defensive line, Dustin Olson was having a great game and finished with 12 tackles.
Quarterback Derek Smith once again had a great all-around effort on offense. Smith completed 12 of 19 passes for 174 yards and two TDâ€™S, while running 19 times for 123 yards and one touchdown.
Much of the success by Smith and the Chewelah offense can be attributed to solid work up front.
â€śWe did a better job pass blocking this week,â€ť said Coach Fisk. â€śWe confused Medical Lake with formations a couple of times and we were able to capitalize most of the time,â€ť Fisk said.
When the formations werenâ€™t opening up long passes downfield for the Cougars, the short game also was working against the aggressive, blitzing Cardinals.
â€śOur screens are going to work well when the defense is crowding the box and bringing a bunch of people after Derek,â€ť said Fisk.
While the finish was a bit closer than the Chewelah coaches would have liked, Coach Fisk was pleased with his teamâ€™s ability to play in a tight game.
â€śThis group has learned how to play down the stretch in a tight game,â€ť Fisk said.
One more tough game for bragging rights atop the NEA awaits the Cougars at home when the Freeman Scotties (5-1, 3-0), visit Snyder Field this Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.
The clash of league leaders will go a long way to determining who is the top seed out of the NEA going into the crossover games against the Caribou Trail League.
â€śThereâ€™s a lot riding on this game and both teams know it,â€ť said Fisk. Freeman is a good team, so we will have our hands full there too. For us, it is just a matter of preparing and executing the game plan to the best of our abilities.â€ť
Freemanâ€™s lone loss to date was in their season opener at Eastern Washington University against former NEA rival Colville. The Indians overcame a 12-0 FHS halftime lead to beat the Scotties, 20-18.
The Freeman game is also Homecoming for the Cougars.
Medical Lake opened the game with the ball and seemed determined to try and keep the ball away from the Cougarsâ€™ offense. The Cardinals used the first 4:29 of the game with a nine-play, 68-yard drive. ML scored on a Jackson Tappero five-yard run. With the extra point, the Cardinals led 7-0.
Chewelah wasted no time getting even on the scoreboard. On their first play from scrimmage, Smith ran untouched around the right side and went 70 yards for a touchdown. The Ty Curtis PAT kick was good and the game was tied 7-7 with 7:22 left in the first quarter.
With 4:49 left in the quarter, a Cougarsâ€™ fumble set the Cardinals up on the Chewelah 49 yard line. Medical Lake took advantage of the turnover and scored on another Tappero five-yard run. The PAT kick was good and the Cardinals led 14-7 with 3:08 still remaining in the first quarter.
Onside kick gamble backfires for ML
ML gambled and attempted an onside kick, but the Cougars were able to recover and set up shop on their own 40 yard line. Chewelah was able to move the ball down the field quickly and score their second touchdown of the quarter on a 36-yard run by Dustin Crowell. Smith ran in the two-point conversion and the Cougars led 15-14 at the end of the first quarter.
On Medical Lakeâ€™s next drive, the Cougars intercepted an Adam Paulson pass and took over on the Cardinalsâ€™ 40-yard line.
The Chewelah drive appeared stalled at the 28-yard line, but on fourth and eight, Smith found McKenzie Miller wide open on a 28-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick was no good and the Cougars led 21-14 with 7:55 left in the first half.
On Medical Lakeâ€™s ensuing drive, Wiebe picked off another Paulson pass on third and 16 and Chewelah took over on their own 48 with 5:55 left in the half. The Cougars took six plays to cover the 52 yards, scoring on a 22-yard TD hook-up from Smith to Crowell. The two-point run came up short and the Cougars led 27-14 going at halftime.
In the second half, both teams punted on their first possessions and on the Cougars second series, a Smith pass was intercepted and Medical Lake took over at the Chewelah 43-yard line. Medical Lake drove to the Cougars 18-yard line, and with the Chewelah defense on the verge of getting the ball back, Paulson found Steven Velasquez for an 18-yard touchdown pass on fourth and long. The extra point was no good and with 5:16 left in the third quarter, the Cougars lead was cut to 27-20.
After the kickoff, Chewelah started at its own 35-yard line. It took only four plays for Chewelah to cover 65 yards. The Cougars hit the end zone when Wiebe raced 11 yards. The extra point was blocked and the Cougars led 33-20 with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
Chewelah comes up empty deep in the Red Zone
In the fourth quarter, Chewelah appeared to be ready to score the clinching touchdown, but on fourth and inches at the Medical Lake six-yard line, the Cougars were flagged for illegal substitution. On fourth and goal from the five, Smith was sacked for a 13-yard loss and Medical Lake took over at the 23 with 7:54 left in the game.
Medical Lake quickly moved downfield, taking three plays to cover the 67 yards. The final touchdown of the game came on a Velasquez four-yard run. A neutral zone infraction on Chewelah moved the ball inside the two on the PAT attempt. Instead of kicking the extra point, the Cardinals went for two. The run by Velasquez was good and the Cougars led 33-28 with 6:30 remaining in the game.
Chewelah was able to run some clock on their next possession. In the process, Medical Lake had to burn valuable timeouts. ML was pinned deep after a Chewelah punt. With only 2:20 left on the clock, Ty Curtis intercepted Paulsonâ€™s pass and allowed the Cougars to almost run out the clock. The Cardinals got the ball back with two seconds left, but a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball back to the Medical Lake five-yard line. A last second gadget play never got off the ground and the Cougars had secured an important win.