ELLENSBURG — There wasn’t a quiet place in Ellensburg’s Andreotti Field Friday night with homecoming and one of the biggest Central Washington Athletic Conference football games of the year on the line.
So Othello placekicker Bernie Garza Jr., found a place at the end of the bench to quiet his thoughts and try and still his heart, for the biggest field goal attempt of his career. As a linebacker, he’s made ferocious tackles, picked off passes, but the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior, never had so much riding on one kick of the football.
He lined up with his holder Gage Pruneda, who flashed the sign to snap the ball once, then again, hoping maybe to draw the Bulldogs offsides. The third signal brought the ball back and Garza put the game-winning 27-yard field goal right down the middle with four seconds remaining on a wind-blown night in central Washington and the Huskies (4-3, 3-1 CWAC North) beat the Bulldogs 10-7 to take over first place.
“He’s standing there all alone, and I went down and found him,” Othello assistant coach Kevin Hensley said. “It was a windy night, that was probably the only thing in terms of weather. I looked him dead in the eye and said, ‘I have no doubt in my mind that you’re going to make this.’”
The Huskies had used up all their wiggle room in the CWAC North standings with the loss to Ephrata and they went into Ellensburg in the final game of the conference schedule in a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive. They hold the No. 1 tiebreaker in the preseason drawing, but without the win at Ellensburg (3-3, 2-1) it would have turned into just another useless raffle ticket.
Estevan Ochoa gave Othello the early lead in the second quarter on a 10-yard run. Ellensburg finally scored on a Brenden Swanson 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter, and on it went to the 11th hour with the Bulldogs looking for the knockout punch.
“I went back in my archive folder from years back to 2012 to a team that was really similar in style and skill and put together a game plan on what we do well and what they do well,” Hensley said. “It was really good, but we had to move a few players around a little bit. But it worked out well for us.”
Despite a 27-yard burst behind the left guard and tackle by Isaiah Perez to set up the first score of the night and the smash-mouth defense that came up with six sacks, feeding off Cameron Carl and Perez coming in off the edge and a secondary of Liddel Giles, Efrain Palomares, Alejandro Gonzalez and Nathan Garza playing lights out, the game boiled down to the foot of Garza, who does both the punting and placekicking.
The Bulldogs’ defense held the Huskies to just 185 yards rushing and forced Othello to punt with two minutes remaining. Garza rolled to his right like a soccer goalkeeper, then launched a 45-yard punt to the Ellensburg 15 yard line. Bulldog return man Spencer Conaway had to track the ball in the wind as it blew to his right and the 5-10, 165-pound sophomore muffed the punt and Giles recovered to give Othello a shot.
They ran the ball a couple of times to set Garza up on the right hash mark and the Huskies senior made it happen.
Othello is finished with its CWAC schedule and wraps up the regular season with a non-league game at Pullman. Ephrata, which has lost to Ellensburg and beaten Othello, can work its way into the CWAC postseason with a win over East Valley Friday night at Kiwanis Field. Ellensburg must win at Quincy. If the Bulldogs do beat the Jacks and Ephrata wins, it would set up a Kansas City tiebreaker at a neutral site to determine the top two teams from the CWAC North.
Othello 0 7 0 3 - 10
Ellensburg 0 0 0 7 - 7
O - Estevan Ochoa 10 run (BJ Garza kick)
E - Brenden Swanson (kick good)
O - Garza 27 field goal