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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Almira/Coulee-Hartline edges Lummi Nation for State 1B football crown

TACOMA – Yes, they play defense in eight-man football.

At least Almira/Coulee-Hartline does, and the Warriors had to late in the fourth quarter with the State 1B championship at stake.

A week ago in a game that saw both teams combine for 152 points with nonstop offense, ACH put up 52 points in the second half.

The Warriors’ offense was nonexistent for most of the final two quarters Friday, but their lone second-half touchdown with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining secured the state title.

It took two fabulous plays by sophomore Payton Nielsen – the first to stop Lummi Nation on what could have been a game-securing scoring drive and the second a game-clinching sack – for ACH to prevail 46-42 at the Tacoma Dome.

Lummi’s John Ballew rumbled 18 yards and was closing in on the end zone when Nielsen stripped the ball and teammate Parker Zappone, another sophomore, recovered at the Warriors’ 1-yard line with 5:26 to go.

ACH covered the 99 yards in seven plays, capped when Charles Hunt took a pitch from Dallas Isaak and scored from 3 yards out allowing the Warriors to regain the lead.

On the ensuing two-point try, Lummi was called for holding. Moments later, Isaak converted to provide what would be the final margin.

After the kickoff, the Blackhawks took over at their 45. They immediately were aided by a pass interference penalty, putting them at ACH’s 40.

Three plays later, Lummi, facing third-and-29 after being backed up by a pair of penalties, picked up 23 yards on a screen.

That set up fourth-and-6 at ACH’s 36. This is where Nielsen came through again with a sack to finish off Lummi.

“I had no blocker and I just got around,” Nielsen said of his sack. “That’s the championship right there. I just went all out.”

Nielsen went on to share the win was about the team and his coaches.

“It’s all my coaching. That’s what I have to credit,” Nielsen said.

It was the fifth state title in seven appearances in the final for ACH – whether it came as Coulee City or some amalgamation of Coulee, Mansfield, Hartline and Almira.

Zappone knew something had to happen just before Nielsen stripped the ball.

“It was kind of a life or death situation,” Zappone said. “It was either they score and we have to tough it out for another minute or we can just go back out there and hustle it down field.”

All of the late heroics were needed after ACH (13-1) saw its 38-28 halftime dissolve when Lummi (11-3) scored two touchdowns in the third quarter for a 42-38 lead.

“We were just saying stay the course the whole game,” Isaak said. “We had that fumble early in the third quarter and we were kind of rattled a little bit. We just said stay the course, stay the course.”

A week after piling up more than 600 yards total offense, Isaak finished with 446 – 261 coming on 17-of-18 passing and 185 on the ground. He had five touchdowns.

In a sense it was a season of redemption for Isaak, who missed most of last year with a broken sternum.

“Yeah, we only had one touchdown in the second half, but it was the one that mattered,” Isaak said. “Once again the hard work and the grit of our team to hold them … I’m just so proud of our guys.”

Isaak matched the state title his dad, Scott, and uncle, Brian, won in 1985.

“I’m going to miss these guys,” Isaak said. “We’re never going to have a team like this again.”

While Nielsen has two more years, he said he’s thought so much about winning a title he even put his thoughts to essays.

“I’ve written countless upon countless essays on it, the dream of coming out here and kissing this field,” he said. “And then winning the ball (trophy).”

It is the second title in three trips under Walsh.

“In my first six or seven years we won 12 games,” said Walsh, in his 17th year at ACH. “It means a lot for our program. More than that, for these kids. To go 2-8 last year and then we lose our first game this year, it would have been so easy for them to come in and kind of go through the motions because, hey, it’s more of the same. But they didn’t. They committed to the process of getting better every day, every week, every game and here we are.”