In the blink of an eye, the Ferris Saxons gained the impetus that put behind the ghosts of football semifinals past and sent them on a date in Tacoma.
Two touchdowns in the final 14 seconds of the first half were the difference in the Arena football-like atmosphere of Joe Albi Stadium Saturday afternoon, as Ferris held on in the shoot- out between offensive juggernauts, 46-41 over Skyview of Vancouver.
The Storm (10-3) amassed 464 yards of offense and the Saxons (10-3) piled up 442 as they combined for 13 touchdowns.
Narrow misses in semifinals the previous two seasons gave way to the euphoria of a State 4A title contest against Skyline on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Tacoma Dome.
“I’m so happy for our seniors, this being our third attempt,” said coach Jim Sharkey. “It would have been really tough to swallow to be so close three times (and not advance).”
Defense became something of an afterthought in this one, but defense was a major influence in the outcome.
Following a go-ahead score by the Saxons right before intermission, Grant Livingston’s 47-yard interception return for a TD as time expired gave the Saxons a 13-point cushion.
The teams combined for seven second-half TDs.
Skyview scored on 60- and 41-yard receptions by speedy receiver Ellis Henderson, but it didn’t take long for Ferris to answer.
The Storm had cut Ferris’ lead to 33-28 at the outset of the fourth quarter. Seventeen seconds later, Gage Orosco raced 49 yards to shove the lead back up to 11. Orosco finished with 17 carries for 138 yards and two scores.
Less than two minutes later it was 39-34. But on the defining drive of the game Connor Halliday rallied the Saxons from 64 yards out in four plays, the decider a 9-yard TD catch by Jordan Tonani with 3:41 left to play. Tonani finished with eight catches for 87 yards.
“He was hurt early in the year, but is now getting back to full strength and running away from tackles,” said Halliday, who finished 23 of 32 for 295 yards and four TDs.
Tonani, who also filled a big role defensively, said, “my goal was to get into the end zone and I did everything I could to get in.”
Ferris went to its dime defense for the waning minutes and forced Skyview into its short passing game. The Storm scored, but it took all but the final 2 seconds to do so.
Three of Halliday’s four touchdown passes were to Jason Bates who had 8 catches for 108 yards.
The Saxons drove 70 yards for the game’s first touchdown, Bates scoring on a slant off a pick play.
It appeared Ferris was going to take a 14-point first-quarter lead after Riley Stockton picked off Storm quarterback Austin Dodge setting up the Saxons inside Skyview’s 19-yard line.
But a wide-open Bates dropped what would have been a certain touchdown. Later, on the first play of the second quarter and near the end zone where Ferris fumbled away a chance to tie Bothell three years ago, it was déjÀ vu.
Halliday fumbled on fourth down and inches and Skyview went on a time-consuming 88-yard drive to knot the score.
“I can promise you we’re never going to run that quarterback sneak again, even though we practice it all week,” Sharkey said.
The teams would trade TDs again, Henderson making 14-14 with 3:12 left in the half. When Ferris got the ball with 40 seconds left, it covered 48 yards in a hurry with Bates catching a 24-yard score with 14 seconds left. Then Livingston, in dime coverage, jumped a screen and found open turf for a 27-14 lead.
“That was humongous,” said Sharkey. “It was the difference in the game. They have a lot of playmakers and they made plays, but our kids really showed their stuff today.”
But the fireworks were only beginning.
Henderson broke his second long screen reception to make it 27-21 in the third quarter. The Saxons came back and drove 69 yards in nine plays with Bates running a nifty route across the end zone and a patient Halliday waiting him out. For the second time, an Alex Belling extra-point attempt was blocked and Ferris’ lead was 12 points.
Skyview would counter, but come no closer than five.
“It was really hard to defend them,” Tonani said afterward. “We did our best, but obviously they scored 41 points. Our offense got enough to make up for it. This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in 13 years as a player, along with everyone who’s been on this team for three years. It feels so good to finally get past the hump. We’ll see what we can do in the Tacoma Dome.”