WOODLAND — Leading 18-14 before the final play of the first half, Naselle scored 24 straight points before their opponent got the ball back. That stretch broke open a 68-38 State quarterfinal victory over the Lyle-Wishram Cougars Saturday, Nov. 17. They’ll play defending champion the Almira-Coulee-Hartline Warriors in Wenatchee in semifinals this Saturday at 1 p.m.

Cole Dorman’s deep pass to Ethan Lindstrom in the end zone with no time left in the first half sparked the Comets. Lindstrom’s long return of the second-half kickoff set up another touchdown. Lindstrom then stole a possession with some onside kick sorcery, leading to yet another TD. The Comets turned a four-point game into a 42-14 lead with 6:03 remaining in the third quarter.

When a Comet drive died at the Cougar three-yard line just 34 seconds before halftime, it seemed that the Comets would have to settle for a four-point lead. Rather than running down the clock, though, the Cougars were aggressive. They missed on a deep pass, and Josh Townsen chased down an outside run, forcing Brandon Montoya out of bounds. A punt gave Naselle the ball at the 24 with ten seconds left. With no time in the half, Dorman hit Lindstrom down the right sideline in the front of the end zone for 19 yards. Antonio Nolan’s two-point run made it 26-14.

“That pass gave us momentum,” Jacob Eaton said. “We came out in the second half knowing we were going to finish strong.”

Lindstrom fielded the second-half kickoff at the 25, reversed field at the 40 and broke away to the Cougar 38. Four plays later, Cole Dorman rolled left and tossed a shovel pass to Jacob Eaton, who took it in for a 27-yard touchdown.

Lindstrom’s onside kick went over the head of the return team, then bounced sharply backward and toward the sideline, landing just in-bounds, where Townsen sprinted to cover it for Naselle. Lindstrom has executed many onside kicks, but this one was extraordinary. The ball moved as if he’d sent it off with detailed instructions about where to bounce and land.

“I try to hit it so I get a spiral,” Lindstrom said. “That makes it bounce right back. This is the first one I’ve really gotten to work.”

Naselle went 44 yards on 10 plays, capped by an Eaton touchdown catch for the 42-14 lead.

Lyle-Wishram finally got the ball back, but only for one play. Kurtis Billette, under pressure from Eaton, threw an interception to Strange. Six plays later, Dorman faked a pitch to Nolan, threw the other way to Fa’aoso Tutu’u, who caught it in the backfield and took it for a 12-yard score to put the game away at 48-14.

The Cougars, heavily reliant on the running of Montoya throughout the year, seemed eager to establish balance with the pass. But high snaps led to two quick sacks and a punt that set up Naselle at the Cougar 36.

Naselle, like Lyle-Wishram, showed new looks for the higher level of competition. A tricky opening play was called back on illegal motion. Dorman then ran eight yards on a rarely-used read option. Naselle moved the ball with its usual passing attack, though. Eaton took a screen pass 17 yards, and Lindstrom shook his defender to come open in the end zone for Dorman’s 16-yard touchdown pass.

The Cougars also tried to get tricky, following a 12-yard Montoya run with a double reverse play. But Tutu’u and Eaton chased it down and combined for a jarring hit that forced a fumble, which Townsen ran in for a touchdown to make it 12-0 less than five minutes into the game.

Montoya leapt over Nolan’s ankle tackle attempt for a 73-yard touchdown run that cut it to 12-6. After a 48-yard Comet drive ending in a 22-yard Tutu’u TD run, Montoya hit Desean Leslie with a deep pass, setting up a touchdown that cut the lead to 18-14 midway through the second quarter.

Montoya had two long touchdown runs for the Cougars, his 73-yarder and a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that cut it to 48-22, and made pass plays out of the wildcat. He added a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, running to his right to field the ball on a bounce, taking it backward and to the left to escape the converging defense, circling to the opposite sideline and outrunning everyone

Rather than hitting the hole quickly for a modest gain, Montoya preferred to dance a bit to find, or create, a big play. To an extent, the Comets turned him into a boom-or-bust runner; when he couldn’t find his big play, they closed in. They certainly didn’t stop him, but they contained him.

“Usually he goes for 300 or 500 yards,” Eaton said. “We watched film, and we saw that he mostly ran sweeps. We played the ends really wide, and told the corners to come down on him, and take the chance that he’s gonna throw a halfback-option pass. We told the backside defenders not to run straight to the line of scrimmage- that’s how he’s going to run right by you. They did a good job of getting angles, and kind of closed the gate on him.”

The Comets’ pass rush, especially Eaton and Tutu’u, got consistent pressure and had several sacks. Lyle-Wishram scored the game’s final touchdown on Desean Leslie’s 71-yard pass to Samuel McCullough with 22 seconds left.

Naselle’s offense was slowed a bit during the first half as the Cougars’ pass rush threw off the timing on some Naselle plays.

During the first half, the Comets took advantage of short fields and Townsen’s early defensive touchdown. They were throwing their whole playbook at Lyle-Wishram. They sent their running back and fastest player, Tutu’u, out as a deep threat. His 32-yard catch led to good field position for the Comets’ end-of-the-half scoring drive.

As the Cougar pass rush slowed in the second half, Naselle increasingly had its way. Nolan scored from a yard out on a double-reverse with Tutu’u to make it 54-22 early in the fourth quarter.

Montoya, playing linebacker, was formidable, using his speed to thwart big plays and cover receivers. When the Comets ran away from him or diverted him from the main action, they usually got good yardage. In the fourth quarter, Tutu’u scored untouched on a six-yard run, as nobody in his vicinity had the speed to contain him and Montoya was on the opposite side of the field. On the other hand, Strange sprinted past an open-field tackle attempt by Montoya for a 40-yard touchdown, Naselle’s final TD of the game.

• Lyle-Wishram came into the game 8-2. Their only previous losses were against Pacific 2B league champion Pe Ell/Willapa Valley, by a 33-7 score, and against St. Paul, one of Oregon’s elite eight-man teams, by a 59-14 score. They blew out North Beach 44-12 and smashed Crescent, a State quarterfinalist that finished 11-3, by a score of 60-0.

• Almira-Coulee-Hartline, the Comets’ semifinal opponent, is coming off a 100-16 win over Crescent. Their quarterback, Maguire Isaak, has averaged 28.7 yards per passing attempt this season. They are 11-1, their only loss coming against Odessa by a 54-22 score.

• Two unbeaten teams, Odessa and Quilcene, square off in the other semifinal. Odessa’s option offense gave Naselle fits in a 76-14 season-opening win. Quilcene mostly performed slightly worse than Naselle against the teams’ common opponents this year.

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