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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bode Gardner, Matteo Saccomanno take over second half, Mt. Spokane outlasts Ridgeline 28-20

It took a while, but Bode Gardner was inevitable.

The Mt. Spokane star had two kick return touchdowns called back and the Wildcats’ offense sputtered in the first half under a quarterback making his first start in several years.

But Gardner exerted his influence in the second half, scoring twice and setting another one up with a circus catch, and the Wildcats outlasted a more-than-game Ridgeline squad 28-20 in a Greater Spokane League 4A/3A game at Union Stadium on Friday.

“They balled,” Gardner said of the Falcons, who were coming off a big win over Central Valley last week. “They got our respect, for sure.”

“Coach (Dave) Myers did a great job of having their kids ready to play and they played hard,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “They always play hard on defense, and they fly around and they’re well coached.”

Gardner finished with three catches for 121 yards and a 75-yard catch-and-run TD. He added two carries for 27 yards, including a 29-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that made it an eight-point game late.

Wildcats tailback Matteo Saccomanno carried 26 times for 108 yards and two TDs.

“We needed our best players to step up and make those kinds of plays tonight and we did enough to win,” Cloer said.

“I knew I had to step up and help be a leader for Alex Cloer,” Saccomanno said. “I kind of just leaned on my other teammates to help me push this team to get to where we are tonight.”

Mt. Spokane starting quarterback TJ Haberman was required to sit out the game due to an ejection from a retaliation penalty in the Wildcats’ opening win. With backup QB Ryker Tweedy out injured, junior Alex Cloer drew the assignment. Though he struggled initially, he settled in after halftime and found Mt. Spokane’s most reliable players – Gardner and Saccomanno – time and again.

Cloer completed 9 of 20 passes for 196 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

“He hasn’t started the game since he was a freshman,” Terry Cloer said of his son. “We threw him in there and he handled the pressure well. I’m proud of him. Obviously, as my son it’s extra special, but I never wanted him to be in that situation. But he was, and he handled it well.”

“We had to just trust our guys,” Gardner said. “Shoutout to Alex Cloer. Out head coach preaches it every single week: ‘Next man up.’ Alex Cloer stepped up with some phenomenal plays. He’s a lifelong friend, and I’m so proud of him.”

Gardner returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back for a block in the back.

After the initial excitement, the teams had trouble moving the ball in the first quarter, combining for just three first downs – with one coming via penalty.

The first big break came with a minute left in the first quarter, as Ridgeline defensive back Brayden Allen went high to pick off Cloer at the Falcons 33.

Ridgeline moved to the Mt. Spokane 42 but punted from there.

A Ryan Koppenhaver punt hemmed Mt. Spokane (2-0, 2-0) in at its 1-yard line. On third-and-6, Cloer tried to thread the needle, but Kole LeGrant made a diving interception at the 12.

On the next play, Garner hit Lincoln Duggan on a fade route for a touchdown for his only catch of the game and 7-0 lead with just under 6 minutes to go in the half.

Mt. Spokane took over at its 20 with 3 minutes to go and Cloer heated up. He hit Gardner for 9 yards, then consecutive passes of 17 yards to Ryan Borchers and 23 to Talan Main put it at the Ridgeline 15.

The Wildcats were faced with second-and-goal at the 4 with 26.4 seconds left and Saccomanno bulled his way through the line and into the end zone. Main’s extra point tied it at 7.

Ridgeline (1-1, 1-1) punted after its first possession of the third quarter and Gardner’s 75-yard return for an apparent score was again called back due to penalty.

On the second play, Saccomanno fumbled and linebacker Tanner Smith scooped it up and rumbled 40 yards to the Mt. Spokane 13. On the next play, Garner found Allen on a down-and-out for the score and a 14-7 lead with 6:35 left in the quarter.

But Gardner wouldn’t be denied. On second-and-5 at the 25, Cloer hit the state track champ in stride for a 75-yard touchdown reception to knot it again.

The Falcons moved into Wildcats territory, but Saccomanno picked off Garner and took it back to the Ridgeline 49.

Gardner made a twisting, leaping catch for 37 yards to the 12, then Saccomanno ran over a defender and into the end zone. Main’s kick made it 21-14.

“Cloer made a great throw, so I had to go up and get it,” Gardner said.

Ridgeline answered. A 13-yard completion to Easton Amend put the ball at Mt. Spokane’s 37, then Allen made a contested one-handed grab down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Ben Joireman blocked the extra-point attempt, and the Wildcats maintained a 21-20 lead with 11:07 to go.

“I was close on one before and coach Cloer gave me like a kind of a side eye before that, so I knew I could get there,” Joireman said. “And it was just all making a play, getting after it. It was surreal.”

“I wanted to make sure the guys knew to go hard on that next one,” Cloer said.

Saccomanno had runs of 15 and 11 yards from a direct snap to move to the Ridgeline 29. Gardner took an end around, broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and went the distance to put the Wildcats up 28-20 with 7:31 to go.

“I haven’t run the ball that much in the past year,” Gardner said. “But I’ve been making plays like that since I was a kid.”

Ridgeline got to the Mt. Spokane 37, but a fourth-and-5 pass went through Amend’s hands.

Saccomanno carried a handful of times to wind down the clock and the Wildcats escaped with a win.

Allen finished with 10 catches for 137. Garner went 32 of 45 for 272 yards and an interception.