Slow start, miscues doom Okanogan

29-point deficit too much to overcome

— Too many turnovers, too much Mason Elliott and not enough offense proved a deadly combination for the Okanogan High School football team in the state 1A playoffs Saturday.

No. 5 state-ranked Cashmere rolled behind Elliott’s 4 touchdowns and the southern Bulldogs three fumble recoveries to an easy 29-14 quarterfinal victory on Lee Bofto Field in the Apple Bowl.

Cashmere (11-1) takes on No. 3 Freeman (11-0), a 33-14 winner over Royal last week, in the state semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane.

No. 1 state-ranked Cascade Christian (11-0), which handed Cashmere its only loss earlier this season (21-3), and No. 4 Mount Baker (10-1) meet in the other state semifinal Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.

In 2B high school football state semifinals, unranked Adna (9-3) takes on No. 2 state-ranked Lind-Ritzville-Sprague (11-0) and No. 5 Raymond (9-1) plays No. 1 Morton-White Pass (11-0).

In 1B eight-man state semifinals, No. 1 Neah Bay (10-0) plays No. 4 Lummi (10-2) and No. 3 Touchet (11-1) takes on unranked Rosalia (9-2).

Ranks are from the Associated Press Week 11 Poll.

Cashmere had its way with Okanogan in the first half Saturday, with Elliott (8-69) scoring on a 35-yard run, catching a slant pass from quarterback Casey Ruether for 50 yards and scooping up a loose ball before taking it 38 yards for another score.

“I felt like they came out a little bit better, stronger, fearless,” senior lineman Enrique Vargas said. “Just a couple mistakes got us down so quick.”

“We were making mistakes like lining up offside and missing blocking assignments,” junior left tackle Brad Nearents said. “If we don’t make holes for T.J. (Morris) and Justin (Rivas) and Arturo (Ramos), there is no place for them to run. I try to make it easier for them.”

Okanogan could muster only 21 yards of offense in the first half of the game.

“They are a good team,” Okanogan coach Erick Judd said. “They came out and totally stopped us on offense.”

“We are not a first half time,” senior tight end and defensive back Justin VanderWeide said. “In the first half, we made mistakes. In the second half, we did not make as many mistakes.

“At halftime, the coaches talked about our mistakes. We fixed them right up.”

Junior Jim Townsend, a tackle and linebacker who led the team in tackles, said the mistakes hurt.

“Not being able to produce on offense probably hurt us the most,” he said.

“We made some adjustments at the half, but it was too late after that,” the coach said. “The second half I thought we came back and played a lot better. The kids did not give up at all.”

“Coach told us at halftime either get back up and keep fighting or put your heads down and the score would keep going up.”

“Everyone stepped up on offense in the second half,” Townsend said. “We finally were able to make plays for big yards. And we were able to stay with them defensively.”

An Elliott 10-yard run in the third quarter put Cashmere up 29-0. That’s when Okanogan finally muzzled Cashmere, at least for a little bit.

Okanogan’s running game started working, although throughout the game the northern Bulldogs shot themselves in the cleated foot time and again with fumbles or drive-stopping penalties.

Okanogan finally broke onto the scoreboard following a miscue. On third-and-four at the 9, quarterback Rivas waved to Ramos to get tighter on the line to block a perceived Cashmere blitzer.

As Rivas leaned and waved to Ramos, the ball was hiked.

The ball whistled past unsuspecting running back Morris and Rivas who was able to jump on it at the 20.

Upset by the miscue, which put Okanogan at fourth-and-15, Rivas vowed he was going to score on fourth down.

“I just know there was no way I was going down,” Rivas (17-63) said of his 20-yard run. “I told the team there was no way we were going to be shut out.”

After not finding anyone open for a pass, Rivas went right up the middle, spun out of the grasp of Rex Pittsinger and quickly was in the end zone.

“He was not going to be denied on that one,” Judd said. “That was a nice run.”

Okanogan’s defense keyed on Pittsinger (21-70), who scored 4 touchdowns and ran for 222 yards when the teams first met in October.

“No. 3 (Pittsinger) of Cashmere told me ‘I’ve never gotten hit so hard,’” Vargas said of Okanogan’s improved tackling in the second half.

“Rex said he never got hit that hard in any of his games this year,” Jason Perez said. “If we had hit like we did in the second half, it would have been a different story. We put it to them the second half.”

Okanogan went for an onside kick, which was recovered by freshman James Colbert.

“If they lined up in a certain formation, we would kick it up the middle,” Colbert said. “We had run the play in practice Friday. I saw the ball go through the front lineman’s hands. I didn’t see the ball until I got around him, then jumped on it.

“I was really happy after it happened. I knew it might be our last game of the season. It was probably the highlight of my season.”

“He’s been on the kickoff team all year,” Judd said. “He’s doing a good job.”

After a couple runs by Morris (14-40), which produced a first down, Rivas passed down the left side on a “Purple 99” play to Perez, who had not been used on offense due to an injury.

Perez leaped high and snared the ball just inside the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown.

“Fabian (Rodriguez) said all game that he was beating him (Colton Crawford),” said Perez, who had been playing defense. “I looked at Justin at the line and he gave me the signal. He knew I was going to get open.

“I just went up and got it. It was a perfect throw.”

Rivas questioned the call for the play.

“Jason said to throw the ball to him,” Rivas said. “I sent T.J. the other way. I had a lot of time to throw. That was the best blocking by the line on a passing play.”

“If we played like we did the second half, it could have turned out different,” Nearents said.

“The difference in the game is that we’d stop them and stop them and they would then go for a long run,” Judd said.

The momentum swung back to Cashmere after stopping Okanogan on fourth down pass to Justin VanderWeide that came up less than a yard short.

“We were driving to make it a one-touchdown game,” Judd said. “We could have made it interesting there.”

Cashmere closed out the game with a late 44-yard touchdown run by Dylan Boyd.

Okanogan finished with 155 yards rushing, including 43 yards on 7 runs by Ramos. Cashmere rolled 207 yards.

Okanogan finished the season at 10-2, with both losses being to Cashmere.

“I was just shocked to be where we were in the standings,” VanderWeide said of finishing second in the Caribou Trail League.

“After we got beat the first time by Cashmere, coach forced us through our injuries we had. That made us a stronger team.”

“We did things right, just not enough,” Judd said.

“When someone’s beating you like that, it is easy to give up. They showed a lot of character.”

“It was a great run,” Rivas said. “From the beginning to now we improved. The team got a lot closer towards the end. I’m glad we stuck together Saturday night.”

Okanogan lost to River View High School from Finley in the opening round of state in 2009.

The team last won a state game in 2000 — 53-0 over Kettle Falls in the first round. The northern Bulldogs won the state championship in 1999.

“We have some young kids that can step it up and fill the gaps of the seniors that are leaving,” Townsend said.

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