When Colton led by 20 Friday, Cusick held tight to two notions:
1, The Panthers, who typically don’t fumble, had lost three fumbles that resulted in three Colton touchdowns.
2, Even with fumbles, Cusick was piling up good yardage.
So when the turnovers ceased and the yardage continued for Cusick, the 20-point deficit vanished into the frosty air at Colfax High School.
Cusick (7-3) scored 36 unanswered points to defeat Colton 52-40 in the State B-8 quarterfinals. The Panthers, last in the playoffs 11 years ago, play top-ranked Odessa next weekend for a berth in Gridiron Classic II at Tacoma.
Odessa beat Cusick 46-34 during the Northeast B-8 season.
Senior running back Justin Finley and sophomore quarterback Tell Hamilton accounted for all Cusick scores on the icy field. The backfield mates also were responsible for three lost fumbles in the first 17 minutes.
“That was partly my fault,” said Finley, who rushed for 245 yards on 40 carries. “I didn’t have enough energy in the first half, but it came around in the second.”
Finley scored twice in the final 1:31 of the first half, cutting the Wildcats’ edge to 28-22. Finley said he called for the second score, a 61-yard pass from Hamilton with 6.6 seconds left.
Cusick scored on three of its first four possessions in the second half and withstood a comeback by Colton (5-4).
The Panthers were able to rally by “slowing down” junior Nick Bates in the third quarter. Bates reached halftime with 166 rushing yards but stood at minus-7 for the third quarter until a 59-yard breakaway in the final minute.
“We made a defensive adjustment that they didn’t pick up on right away,” said 31-year Cusick coach Fred Vogel. “We moved our defensive end out on them a little bit.”
Cusick caught a break when Colton running back/center Tyson Druffel left the game after a failed 2-point conversion at the end of the first quarter. With Druffel out, Bates had to stick mainly to running back. He and freshman left-hander Brian Busch usually switch off at quarterback.
Bates finished with 317 rushing yards on 25 carries. Still, with Hamilton rushing for 99, Cusick held a 367-338 edge on the ground.
“I felt if we had any kind of advantage it was going straight at them,” Vogel said. “They had too much speed for us to go outside.”
Colton trailed 44-40 when it attempted a fourth-and-6 at its 36. Joe Waldman stopped Bates 3 yards short and Cusick took over with 4:14 left. Finley added insurance by breaking a tackle around the corner for an 11-yard TD with 2:34 left.
“(At 28-8) I just had to tell the guys to keep on strokin’ and we could still come out on top,” Finley said.
Cusick 52, Colton 40
Cusick 0 22 22 8 -52
Colton 12 16 6 6 -40
Colt-B.Weber 16 pass from Bates (run failed) Colt-Bates 57 run (run failed) Cus-Hamilton 1 run (Hamilton run) Colt-B.Weber 25 pass from Busch (E.Druffel pass from Busch) Colt-Bates 45 pass from Busch (Truong pass from Busch) Cus-Finley 5 run (pass failed) Cus-Finley 61 pass from Hamilton (Finley run) Cus-Finley 33 run (Hamilton run) Cus-Hamilton 1 run (pass failed) Cus-Hamilton 13 run (Stazel pass from Hamilton) Colt-Bates 59 run (pass failed) Colt-Bates 27 run (run failed) Cus-Finley 11 run (Stazel pass from Hamilton)