It took awhile for Mead's defense to adjust to Southridge and the offense never solved the Suns, whose pressure on a young quarterback led to a 14-10 victory. All scoring was in the first half.
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There was nothing particularly fancy about Southridge’s offensive attack. Quarterback Stephen Garcia either handed it off to Dallin Palmer or he kept it.
But the Mead Panthers defense, as stout as it was this season, could not get a handle on them for a half and fell 14-10 Friday night in a state play-in game against the Columbia Basin Big Nine No. 4 seed.
The duo combined for 32 carries and 161 yards in the first half. The only time Garcia passed was late in the second period with his team trailing 10-7. But from the Panthers 35 yard line following a questionable penalty for a late hit out of bounds, he completed both for what proved to be the winning score.
Both teams staked their reputations this year on proud defenses.
It was Mead’s D that had saved the home team early in the game and shut down the Suns after intermission.
Southridge was grinding when the ball popped out of Garcia’s hands and into those of safety Casey Monahan who raced untouched 62 yards for the game’s initial touchdown.
Another Southridge march was halted by Bo Tully’s interception. And a lost fumble aborted another drive.
But the visitor’s defense proved even tougher, virtually shutting down the Panthers.
“We know our defense is that good and won’t beat itself,” said Southridge coach Andy Troxel. “We put them in bad situations and they responded.”
When the Suns were flawless on offense they proved unstoppable, primarily because of the push of their line at the point of attack, but also because of the shiftiness and speed of 5-foot-10, 155 pound Palmer and power of 6-3, 206 Garcia.
Following turnovers on their first two series, the duo alternated 11 plays and covered 70 yards to tie the game four minutes into the second quarter.
Mead responded, Mike Smith’s 41-yard burst accounting for more than half of the first-half offense. Panther Marc David kicked a 33 yard field goal to put them back ahead.
At that point, coach Sean Carty thought his team was in good shape.
“We were still managing the game and I thought we’d go into halftime ahead 10-7,” he said.
Particularly after Southridge fumbled away the gall at midfield with 3 minutes, 32 seconds left until intermission.
But the Suns got the ball back with 2 minutes left and got a big break on the penalty, even though the tackle was initiated in-bounds.
“We’ve had a rough time with judgment calls, had tough breaks in that area,” said Carty. “But that doesn’t mean you give up a touchdown. We let down.”
Garcia hit Tyrell McGee from 15 yards out with 46 seconds left.
That was the last scoring of the night.
“On film they were a lot more lateral and not as downhill,” said Carty, of the Suns first-half offense. “Tonight they came at us and we were on our heels early.”
Mead’s defense adjusted, allowing only two second-half first downs. But Southridge was just as tough, picking off three passes in the final two quarters. Twice in the third quarter the Panthers (7-3) started inside the Suns 35 yard line but managed minus-10 yards.
Southridge (8-2) finished with 240 yards, with only 44 of those coming in the second half. Mead had 110 total.
As for the simplicity of Southridge’s attack, Troxel merely said, “they do what they do. This is what they’ve worked for. They’ve gotten better every week and haven’t peaked.”
Southridge plays at Eisenhower next week in the first round of 4A state. Mead’s season is ended.