Much is made about Mt. Spokane’s quick-strike offense, and rightfully so.
But the Wildcats’ defensive is a unit to be reckoned with as well. On a cold, rainy November day – when the offense took a little while to get going – the defense proved its mettle.
The Wildcats’ defense held Metro-Sound division champion Roosevelt to 164 yards of total offense and the offense eventually found its footing as Mt. Spokane knocked off the Rough Riders 27-0 in a 3A “Round of 32” game at Union Stadium on Saturday.
Mt. Spokane will find out its State 3A first-round opponent on Sunday when the brackets are announced at 1 p.m.
“Survive and advance,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “I was glad we were in the lead all day and made it fairly easy, so that was good after a long week.”
“We all practiced throughout the week to be really aggressive and go toward the ball,” Wildcats senior defensive lineman Spencer Dery said.
“We’ve been complacent recently watching tackles. But we really bolted toward the ball today. We knew if we didn’t, we would have lost.”
After a 2-for-7 start for minus-4 yards, Wildcats quarterback TJ Haberman finished 14-of-21 passing for 243 yards. Greater Spokane League touchdown leader Bode Garnder had seven catches for 127 yards with a TD reception, and Tristan Olson had six catches for 117 yards. Olson added two short touchdown runs.
Mt. Spokane played without starting tailback Matteo Saccomanno with an undisclosed injury. Roosevelt’s Kayo Patu, a University of Arizona commit, was injured late in the second quarter and did not return. Patu had three catches for 19 yards.
The Rough Riders played in the Metro League’s lower tier this season and dominated , going 7-0 and outscoring opponents 330-48. But under the league’s two-tiered system, they had to beat Bishop Blanchet – the Metro-Mountain division’s sixth-place team – in a play-in game Tuesday, a 36-16 win, before traveling across the state to challenge Mt. Spokane.
“They have some offensive weapons, and we were concerned about them and their athleticism,” Cloer said. “It’s hard to tell with the league that they play in. The Metro, obviously, top to bottom has got some dudes, and so we were concerned about that. We knew that we’d be OK up front and if we could make them try and run the ball that we were OK.”
Roosevelt finished with 30 carries for 57 yards.
Mt. Spokane’s defense excelled at the start. A sack put Roosevelt at its 5 on its first possession, and the punt set the Wildcats up at the Rough Riders’ 44. But after two incomplete passes, Mt. Spokane kicked it back.
On the next play, Roosevelt quarterback Dalton Anderson was stripped while scrambling, and Wildcats defensive lineman Jacob Palmer fell on the loose ball at the 17. Mt. Spokane didn’t take advantage as Haberman’s fourth-down pass was knocked down in the end zone.
The Wildcats’ defense forced another first-quarter punt, but Haberman’s slant pass was intercepted by Thomas Stapleton at the Mt. Spokane 40. The Wildcats’ defense responded again, forcing a turnover on downs.
“Our kids looked at (Roosevelt’s) record and looked at their RPI and looked at the things that were said on social media and believed it – and believed that they were a good football team,” Cloer said. “So, we definitely had a lot of respect for them, and it took a little bit for us to get traction and get going.”
On the last play of the first quarter, Haberman hit Tristan Olson down the sideline for a 74-yard gain to the Roosevelt 3. Two plays later, Olson barreled in from the 1 and Mt. Spokane took a 7-0 lead.
“The slow start wasn’t really what we were looking for – a couple three-and-outs,” Haberman said. “I’m not sure if it was the weather or what it was. I was having a hard time hitting my one-on-one matchups. I found Tristan on the post-corner (route), and it brought us down (to the red zone) and we scored. It got things going.”
After another defensive stop, Gardner returned a punt 19 yards to the Roosevelt 39 and hauled in a 37-yard catch to the 2. After a holding call, Ryan Borchers took a counter for a 12-yard touchdown run, and Mt. Spokane led 14-0 with 7 minutes left in the half.
Mt. Spokane got the ball back at its 33 with 1:44 to go. Haberman went to Olson for a couple of first downs, and with 1.1 seconds left, he heaved the ball into the end zone from the 40, where Gardner outjumped a defensive back and came down with the touchdown catch.
The Wildcats led 21-0 at the half.
“Our defense is the base for our offense,” Dery said. “We depend on our defense, but as soon as the offense picks up, we can have just one good play and they just skyrocket.”
After holding the Rough Riders on downs twice in the third quarter, Mt. Spokane took over late in the quarter at its 27 and went on a 7-minute, 10-play, 73-yard drive, culminated by Olson’s 3-yard touchdown run. The kick failed, and the Wildcats led 27-0 with 5:58 to go .
“I think that was the longest drive we’ve had all year where I haven’t thrown the ball,” Haberman said.
“We knew if we could get one more score that (Roosevelt’s) body language wasn’t great, and it would be the nail in the coffin,” Cloer said.
“We were able to get it there in the end, and take some time off the clock.”