The Tigers came into Tuesday nights three-way Kansas tiebreaker not knowing exactly what to expect. With Aberdeen, Black Hills, and Centralia all tied for third place in the 2A Evergreen Conference nobody was even sure how long it would take to determine which teams would take the final two spots to the District IV crossover round of the playoffs.
As it turned out, it didn’t take long at all.
Black Hills wound up staying on the field for all of the evening’s affairs but with two losses in the abbreviated one-off contests (that started from the defense’s 25-yard line) the shootout wound up being all she wrote this season for the Wolves. Centralia took the field in the first round and wound up knocking off the Wolves 7-0 before Aberdeen followed suit with a 6-0 defeat of Black Hills in the evening finale. With regular season results figuring into the final equation, Aberdeen winds up as the third seed out of the EvCo while Centralia settles for the fourth and final spot into the crossover round of the playoffs.
“I’m happy for the kids. Our school hasn’t had this opportunity since some of my coaches were in high school and that’s a long time. We don’t have any young coaches,” said Centralia coach Jeremy Thibault. “Just the overall success they’ve enjoyed this year has been nice.”
In their bout with Black Hills the Tigers found themselves playing defense first, but not for long. That’s because on the Wolves’ second play, Centralia’s Andrew Mitchell was able to get his mittens on an errant pass, tipping it high into the air, before safely cradling it in his clutches as it tumbled back toward the turf.
“I was told to cover trips so that’s what I did. I had the middle of the field and I saw the ball like a second later so I tried grabbing it, tipped it up, and came up with the pick, and I’m really happy about it,” said Mitchell. “Nothing was going through my head other than I need to grab this ball.”
Centralia then came out on offense and used a bevvy of rushes, primarily from Chase Sobolesky-Reynolds to get down to the 10-yard line before stalling out. Facing a fourth down the Tigers elected to kick a field goal but saw that attempt blocked at the line of scrimmage.
Centralia chose to take the ball first on their second possession and promptly started moving the wrong direction. By the time it was third down, they needed a full 20 yards just to snag a first down.
That’s when the Tigers called on Benito Valencia, fresh back from a severe shoulder injury, to bail them out of a jam. With Valencia lined up on the sideline as a wideout, Centralia quarterback Cameron Erickson dropped back and let loose a wobbling throw that landed in Valencia’s sure hands just before he went out of bounds at the 1-yard line. On the next play Erickson kept the ball himself and burst through the Wolves’ defensive line for a touchdown.
“Before the game, the trainer, who’s awesome, she asked, ‘Is he going to play tonight?’ And I said I don’t want to make those decisions. You’re the professional and it’s his body so it’s up to his parents and him. Then he came in and said to me, ‘Give me some pants!’,” said Thibault of Valencia’s last-minute clearance to play. “That was a heckuva catch. He can’t get hurt any more than he is but he is in an immense amount of pain.”
When Black Hills took the field again, the Tigers defense tackled the abominable Zack Loveless for a loss on a run play before forcing three straight incomplete passes to secure the 7-0 victory.
“For whatever reason, they didn’t just pound Loveless up the middle. I mean, he’s such a gifted athlete, I’d give him the ball every time,” commented Thibault.
In any case, the Tigers’ coach was pleased with the way his team put the clamps on the Wolves, holding them to -8 yards of total offense while also snagging an interception.
“I think the defense did well even though they are banged up. Adam Waller, he has a torn rotator cuff, he batted that ball down on that wheel route. He’s been to the doctor and it is what it is,” said Thibault. “(Chris) Kirner, he doesn't have the stats to back anything up but he’s like the leader in the (defensive) backfield there.”
Aberdeen and Black Hills faced off in the evening’s second and final affair, with the Wolves taking possession from the 25-yard line first. The Wolves looked to be in business out of the gate as Payton Hoyt picked up 15 yards on the first play before Loveless pounded the ball inside a couple of times for short gains. However, a subsequent field goal attempt by Black Hills never got off the ground and Aberdeen took over possession with a short field and a shot to set their own course into the playoffs.
The Bobcats wasted little time in doing just that.
Ethan Morrill took a handoff on Aberdeen’s first offensive play and turned up 11 yards for a first down. An encroachment penalty on Black Hills on the next play moved Aberdeen up five yards before Morrill picked up another six yards to put the pigskin on the three yard line. Fullback Dylan Richie did the rest of the work for the Bobcats as he plunged the final nine feet for the game-winning, Kansas tiebreaker ending, touchdown.
Aberdeen coach Todd Bridge noted that he played in a Kansas tiebreaker once upon a time, and that he’s also coached in one and served as the athletic director for two.
“So I’ve got some experience,” said Bridge. “We put some gimmick plays together but fortunately we didn’t have to use them.”
Bridge added that once Morrill got loose for big yards on the first play, he liked his team’s odds of finishing on top.
“I couldn't believe it but we kind of stacked up that play opposite. Not to get into too many details but we ran that play the opposite way three weeks ago so we just wanted to see if it would work the other way this week,” said Bridge.
After enduring the suspense of a tiebreaker scenario where his team’s season could have ended on a fluke play Bridge had no complaints with the third seed securely in hand.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothin’,” said Bridge.
Mitchell, the man who snared the interception to set Centralia on the path to victory and the road to the playoffs, was also beaming after the tiebreaker was over.
“It feels good. I’ve been dreaming of this since my freshman year,” said Mitchell. “I realize now that it takes only a split second and one play to change a game.”
On Saturday Centralia will play at Hockinson while Aberdeen will play at Ridgefield. The Spudders and Bobcats will play at 6 p.m. while the Hawks and Tigers have yet to determine a time for their crossover contest.