COULEE CITY — Sometimes a swift kick in the pants is enough to right the course.
Almira/Coulee-Hartline saw a 24-point lead melt in the 1B Northeast league championship game two weeks ago in Odessa.
Since, the Warriors (9-2) have been the one doing the kicking. They scored 68 points in the District 5/6/7 seeding game last week against Republic and dismantled Colton in Saturday’s 1B state play-in game 72-46.
It’s business as usual for ACH, which scored 38 points in the second quarter and racked up 645 in total yards against the Wildcats (7-4).
“I think the Odessa game has gotten us refocused a little bit. Practices are more intense because the kids have bought into it. They were frustrated that in the two games we’ve lost this season, we had a lead in the second half,” Warriors coach Brandon Walsh said. “Our defense tonight was very good. Colton has a very dynamic offense. They game-planned us well, but our kids rose up and got stops early when we needed to. That got the momentum going our way.”
The most obvious numbers that tell the tale are on offense. The Warriors racked up 645 (12.45 per play) in total offense. Quarterback Maguire Isaak was virtually unstoppable once he got to the edge, rushing for 224 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns. The 6-foot, 170-pound junior also passed for five touchdowns, completing 14-of-17 for 320 yards.
Parker Zappone scored on three touchdown receptions and ran for another. He caught four balls for 160 yards. Payton Nielsen had three spectacular one-handed catches, ending the day with 101 yards on four receptions with two touchdowns and two two-point conversion catches.
But it was defense that helped the 2015 champions move on to the 1B bracket for another run at the title.
“They have a run-and-shoot sort of offense similar to ours, so our goal was to cover their receivers a little longer than they’re used to and put the pressure on with the pass rush,” Walsh said. “I thought we did a fair job of that. When a team throws the ball as much as they do, you’re going to lose a guy over the top every now and then. But I thought we did a pretty good job of containing those guys.”
The key was early.
Isaak ran for one and found Nielsen on a 39-yard scoring strike. But Colton countered with a 78-yard kick return by Parker Druffel to tie the game when both teams scored in the first minute and a 45-yard touchdown run by Cameron Bean in a game that featured four touchdowns in the four minutes.
The Warriors led 14-12 four minutes into it, but they shored up the defense and got the linebackers flying to the ball a little more.
“Coming off the Odessa game, I thought we needed to keep our heads (in the game) more. We kind of lost our gas in the second half of that one. Tonight, they passed a lot more and we haven’t faced a team that passes like that,” Warrior safety Hayden Loomis said. “Our defense is capable of big stops, which is definitely important in the week to come. This is one of the strongest defenses we’ve ever had. I’m totally behind these guys and I know they have my back and I have theres.”
Gage Burchill led the defense with 5.5 tackles, including one for a loss. Defensive back Sean Syth had five and Nielsen, who plays defensive end, had a sack to go along with four tackles on the day.
Almira/Coulee-Hartline (9-2) will play Naselle (8-2) in the first round of the 1B state tournament. The time and date has yet to be determined.
Colton 12 14 0 20 - 46
ACH 28 38 6 0 - 72
ACH - Maguire Isaak 44 run. (Payton Nielsen pass from Isaak)
C - Parker Druffel 78 kickoff return (pass fails)
ACH - Nielsen 39 pass from Isaak (pass fails)
C - Cameron Bean 45 run (pass fails)
ACH - Parker Zappone 59 pass from Isaak (Nielsen pass from Isaak)
ACH - Isaak 53 run (run fails)
ACH - Isaak 60 run (Nielsen pass from Isaak)
C - Cameron Bean 54 pass from Druffel (Druffel run)
ACH - Zappone 50 pass from Isaak (run fails)
ACH - Zappone 41 run (Brayton Schafer pass from Isaak)
C - Druffel 49 run (pass fails)
ACH - Gage Burchill 3 pass from Isaak (pass fails)
ACH - Zappone 39 pass (Isaak run)
ACH - Loomis 7 run (run fails)
C - Druffel 5 run (pass fails)
C - Reece Chadwick 32 run (Chris Wolf pass from Druffel)
C - Druffel 30 (pass fails)