Ashton Zettle was tired.
The West Valley senior ran a kickoff back 97 yards on the final play of the first half, then took the opening kick of the second half and ran 91 yards before getting tackled at the 5 to set up a one-play drive that put the host Eagles on the path to a 35-10 win over East Valley on Friday night.
“Mostly I just followed my blockers,” he said. “They did a good job in front of me.”
His 188 yards on two kick returns doesn’t quite tell the full story.
“If you would just run straight you wouldn’t be so tired,” a coach quipped on his way to the West Valley locker room.
“I was pretty tired after that,” Zettle admitted.
Both kicks saw Zettle field the kick and start running to his right, bounce outside briefly, then cut back to find a seam in the coverage that led him to the left sideline with a path to the end zone.
West Valley’s special teams play was a strength, although it was also a headache.
The Eagles’ defense checked East Valley with a three-and-out to start the game and came an eyelash away from blocking the punt. But instead of the big play they were flagged for running into the kicker, giving the Knights a fresh set of downs.
When the Knights bogged down at the West Valley 6 and attempted a 26-yard field goal, special teams redeemed itself by smothering the attempt.
East Valley’s do-everything quarterback, Diezel Wilkinson, found running room all night, but cracked the defense for big yardage on just one play, a 41-yard run that set up the Knights’ lone touchdown – diving over from the 4 for the score with 4:09 left in the first half to take a 7-0 lead.
“We really focused on keeping him in the corral,” West Valley coach Craig Whitney said.
Judah Clark blasted through a big hole on the left side and raced 46 yards for the first of two touchdowns to even the score at 7-7 with 3:19 to play in the half.
Wilkinson engineered a 12-play drive to get the Knights to the West Valley 13-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half, using their final time out of the half to stop the clock and set up a 31-yard Alonzo Vargas field goal for their final lead in the game, 10-7.
That’s when Zettle went to work.
The win erased some of the sting of last season’s three-team playoff at Central Valley that saw Wilkinson lead the Knights to a win in the mini-playoff to reach the playoffs.
An outbreak of COVID-19 at the school forced East Valley to cancel last year’s rivalry game.
West Valley (3-2, 2-1 GSL 2A) now has won back-to-back games after shutting out Clarkston on the road last week. The Eagles travel to Riverside next week.
East Valley (0-5, 0-3) has dropped five straight to start the season. The Knights return home to host North Central next week.
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