TUMWATER — Struggling to take advantage of big play opportunities throughout the first three quarters against Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, the Toledo football team took a calculated chance in a one-score, back-and-forth contest down the stretch.
After Wyatt Nef scored his second rushing touchdown to put the Riverhawks (8-2) up by eight with 10 minutes to play, coach Mike Christensen decided to put all his chips on the table and attempt an onside kick.
Catching the Titans (6-4) completely off-guard, sophomore Kasen Ball fell on top of the kick to give Toledo a game-changing play in the waning moments. Just a few plays later, Nef hit tailback Justin Filla for a 57-yard touchdown to put the Riverhawks up two scores with eight minutes remaining, and they held on to win, 28-14, Monday night.
“We were debating it and going back and forth,” Christensen said of the onside kick decision. “You gotta make big plays sometimes, and we were having trouble making big plays. There were some opportunities there, those were plays we had, touchdowns with whistles blown, there were lots of plays to be made. We wanted to manufacture one, and it worked out for us.”
The win means that Toledo gets to play another day, as it will head out to Oak Harbor on Saturday to take on Friday Harbor for official crossover play. The loss for PWV means that its season is over.
Before the deciding plays in the fourth quarter, the squads played a tight, back-and-forth matchup worthy of two potential state qualifiers. Every Toledo touchdown was met with a PWV score through three quarters, as both teams pounded the rock and made plays when they needed to through the air.
“It was a block here and a block there, plays were there to be made,” Christensen said. “They’re a good, solid, well-coached football team. They were taking things away from us, and you just have to poke and prod until you find an opening sometimes and that’s what we were able to do.”
Toledo had three 100-yard rushers, with Filla, Nef, and Geoffrey Glass all eclipsing the century mark. Nef scored two touchdowns on the ground, and one through the air, while Filla took one scamper into the end zone.
The Riverhawks also stymied the Titan rushing attack, holding them to 47 rushing yards and forcing PWV to change its gameplan. As a result, PWV attacked through the air, with Titan QB Tyler Adkins going 10 for 18 with 171 passing yards and two touchdowns.
For the Titans, 2021 marked a great turnaround from a spring season that saw them win just one game. Though their season has ended before they could make it to state, coach Josh Fluke is proud of his team.
“It was a good football game,” Fluke said. “A few miscues, and we had a hard time stopping them inside. The onside kick didn’t help any. I’m proud of the way the kids played, we got better as the season went on. I’m already excited for next year.”
His opponent had high praise for the upstart Titans after the game, saying that PWV is one of the top-12 teams in the state.
“It’s not fair,” Christensen said. “They should be playing in this tournament. The fact that they’re not is heartbreaking for the kids. That’s what's frustrating about not having a 16-team tournament. That’s something the WIAA should look at and reevaluate.”
But with his team coming out on top, Toledo has a shot at making a state run if it can get through Friday Harbor on a short week this coming Saturday.
The focus for the next five days will be getting rested up before yet another long week of prep and a game.
“Our guys have got to play,” Christensen said. “We have to take a lot of mental reps this week and be easy on our bodies and heal up. As coaches we’ll do that and hopefully we’ll be as prepared as we can be on Saturday.”
The Riverhawks will take on Friday Harbor on the road on Saturday at 1 p.m., with a state berth on the line.