Tigers overcome two-score deficit, but fall to Elma in OT


In the moments immediately following the end of Centralia football team’s season opener, Centralia coach Jon Rooklidge’s message to his team was clear.

The Tigers (0-1) did almost everything they needed to do to win Friday night’s season opener, and they gave the Centralia community something to be proud of.

Even so, the Tigers fell just short of snapping their losing streak, falling in overtime to the Elma Eagles, 21-14.

“It hurt to lose, and that’s good,” Rooklidge said after the game. “We’ve talked about growth, and there’s no question that we grew tonight.”

Early on, it looked like more of the same for the Tigers, who entered the game on an 11-game losing streak.

Dustin Ingles intercepted a deflected pass inside the five to keep the Eagles out of the end zone on the game’s opening possession, but things quickly went south.

Kellen Rooklidge fumbled on the first offensive play to give the ball right back to the Eagles, and Elma’s Kale Reeves promptly scored to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

Elma then recovered a short squib kick, and the Eagles took just five plays to punch it in the end zone again, quickly jumping to a 14-0 lead.

“Our first five minutes were rough,” Rooklidge said. “We did some of the things in those first five that happen often when you’ve struggled.”

While the Tiger teams of the recent past may have folded with an early deficit, these Tigers responded with an 11-play touchdown drive to cut the deficit in half.

All 11 plays were rushes by Dylan Mock and Rooklidge, and Mock finished the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown run.

Five plays later, Elma’s Carter Studer tried to find one of his receivers deep down the sideline, but Micah Nobach found the ball in the air first and came down with the interception to regain possession.

“All of a sudden, the kids kind of bounced back,” Rooklidge said, talking about the shift in momentum. “We moved the ball extremely well in that second quarter … came out the second half, moved the ball right down the field and scored again. Those were all wins.”

Looking to tie the game before halftime, Centralia began marching down the field, first with seven runs from Mock and Rooklidge, then a 17-yard pass from Terrell Sanders to Ingles.

The Tigers’ first chunk play of the game came on the next play, as Sanders found Landen Jenkins downfield for a 27-yard gain, but the play was wiped off as Jenkins was called for offensive pass interference.

The Centralia sideline was clearly frustrated with the call, even more so when a potential defensive pass interference on the following play was not called.

While the Tigers didn’t end up scoring before the half, it took them just nine plays to go 80 yards in four and a half minutes to tie the game coming out of the break.

“Responding to adversity, you like to see that,” Rooklidge said. 

While the score remained deadlocked at 14 until the end of regulation, both teams had their chances to grab the lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Elma was facing a fourth and 11 from the Tiger 18 yard line. A bad snap seemingly killed the play before it began, but Studer kept the play alive and had Isaac Phillips open in the end zone.

The pressure from the Tigers defensive line had been ramping up throughout the second half, however, and on that play, it forced to throw off his back foot. His pass was underthrown and batted away by Rooklidge.

In the final minute of the fourth quarter, the Tigers reached the Eagles 22-yard line, and the possibility of a walk-off touchdown had the crowd buzzing. Instead, they too stalled out.

The Eagles started overtime on offense, and it took just three plays to reach the end zone and regain the lead.

The Tigers never got going on their possession. After Rooklidge was stuffed in the backfield, a false start pushed them back to the 33-yard line. 

Sanders tossed a screen to Ingles on second-and-18, but he was taken down immediately for no gain. Two incompletions later, the Eagles rushed the field in celebration and the Tigers’ losing streak reached 12.

While the final score was disappointing, Rooklidge was anything but disappointed with his squad after the game.

“We did lots of amazing things tonight,” Rooklidge said. “We made big plays in the clutch, it was a great football game. We didn’t win, and that’s tough.”

“In the end, that game could have gone either way. I’m totally proud of our kids. We did everything we wanted to do, short of the outcome.”

The Tigers return to the field on Thursday, when they’ll head to Eatonville to take on the Cruisers at 7 p.m.