Pardon the Sandpoint High football team if it celebrates its first state championship for a while.
The Bulldogs, in fact, should be allowed as much time as needed to savor the State A-1 Division II title, if for no other reasons than these:
Because of the dramatic manner in which they won Friday, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to knock off Eagle 24-21 before a crowd estimated at 4,000 at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium.
Because of how far the program has come in four years since coach Satini Puailoa took over. From doormat to state champion.
“We’ve had to carry a lot of excess baggage the past few years and this year,” Puailoa said.
The baggage became even weightier when the Bulldogs trailed 21-10 at halftime.
Sandpoint (9-3) owned the second half, though. Still, the Bulldogs had the ball for all but three plays in the third quarter yet had no points to show for it.
The Bulldogs’ comeback started on their final series of the third quarter - a possession extended because of a roughing-the-punter penalty by Eagle (8-4).
On second-and-10 from the Eagle 11-yard line, quarterback Paul Nieman found wide receiver Dave Mattingly for a touchdown on a busted play. Rolling to his right, Nieman was supposed to throw to standout Caleb Bowman. But he was covered by three Mustangs.
Nieman improvised, lofting a pass just beyond an Eagle defensive back and into the awaiting hands of Mattingly, who was falling backward as he caught the pass.
A two-point conversion failed, but Sandpoint was within 21-16 with 10:55 left.
Then Sandpoint’s defense, which was subpar in the first half, stiffened. On Eagle’s second play on the next series, Bulldogs defensive tackle Stefon Kleinert flattened Mustangs quarterback Tyler Moyer on an option keeper. The ball popped loose and Mattingly and teammate Brandon Jacobson recovered at the Eagle 36.
Sandpoint had a handful of big plays on what would prove to be the game-winning series. The first came on fourth-and-3 at the 17.
Puailoa said the Bulldogs had called two plays depending on Eagle’s defense. If Bowman had singleman coverage, then Nieman would throw a quick hitch. If the Mustangs had three players in Bowman’s vicinity - which they did - then Nieman was to check to an offtackle play for tailback Kurt Berkley.
Workhorse Berkley, who rushed 36 times for 183 yards, got the ball and followed the left side of his line, darting 12 yards to the Eagle 5.
On third-and-goal at the 4, Nieman threw a quick post to a wide-open Bowman for the TD. Nieman then lofted a pass to the corner that Mattingly ran under for the two-point conversion and what would be the final margin with 6:50 left.
3A Washington Moses Lake 27, Prosser 20
Moses Lake’s Chris Nelson gained 100 yards for the Chiefs as they slipped past Prosser in Friday’s State 3A quarterfinal in Kennewick’s Lampson Stadium.
Moses Lake (9-2) will take on Lakes, which beat Issaquah 20-9, next week.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: Changed from Idaho edition.