It was scoreless at halftime, but lightning struck in the form of Matt Libert's 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown starting the third period and the Wood River High School varsity football team was on its way to its first win Friday.
Wood River surprised the Burley Bobcats with two big plays for touchdowns in the second half and also turned two 'Cat turnovers into scores during Friday's 23-0 Great Basin Conference West triumph at Phil Homer Field, Hailey.
The struggle between two winless teams tipped in favor of Wood River (1-4, 1-1 league) because of 20 points in the third quarter—12 coming on touchdowns by senior tailback Libert and six more on an 89-yard TD pass from junior Sean Bunce to junior Michale Brunker.
Wood River's first football win over Burley on the Hailey gridiron in 19 years snapped a two-season, seven-game Wolverine losing streak and kept Burley (0-7) on its current 16-game, three-season losing skid.
More importantly the win assured Wood River a spot in the 4A state qualifying "Great Eight Playoffs" Oct. 26.
Commenting about the reaction of the coaching staff and players to Friday's home win, Wood River head coach Mike Glenn said, "Relief, happy, upbeat. It was good medicine, a good vibe, good for everybody. Certainly a breath of fresh air. It keeps the kids interested and it's good for the community."
Burley wasn't strong, but the 'Cats stuck to their game plan of pounding it on the ground (41 carries, 119 yards) and kept the Wolverine defense on the field for 30 of the game's 48 minutes. But Burley lost three fumbles and threw an interception. Glenn said, "They grinded us a little and then turned it over."
Wood River's offense had good field position in the scoreless first half and moved twice to the 'Cat 15 and 37 before quarterback sacks pushed the home team back. Glenn reminded players in a time out that all they needed to do was execute better to beat Burley.
Libert executed perfectly on the second-half kickoff, running the ball back 79 yards for a 6-0 Wolverine lead.
Rafael Barriga kicked the extra point and also got good wood on the ensuing kickoff. Burley fumbled the kickoff and Brunker pounced on the ball at the Bobcat 36. A 34-yard pass from senior Danny Kramer to senior Matt Staskiewicz moved the ball to the one, and Kramer tossed a quick pitch to Libert for a 13-0 Wolverine lead.
Wood River's third and final touchdown came after a Kramer fumble recovery at the 10-yard-line that stopped Burley's best drive of the game, a time-consuming 16-play, 57-yard rushing showcase.
Sophomore linebacker Tyler Peters was everywhere on the 'Cats drive, making seven of his game-high 13 tackles.
Glenn said, "They kept running their lead at us and our defense sat on it, stuffing them a little. They didn't move us a lot on defense."
Right after Kramer's fumble recovery, Burley's defense smothered Bunce for a three-yard loss on an end-around run from the right side of the field to the left. Two plays later Wood River tried the play again, only this time Bunce ran from left to right and stopped in his tracks to throw a pass.
He found Brunker waving his hands, wide open 20 yards down field. Brunker waited for the ball, caught it and completed the 89-yard touchdown—Wood River's longest score from scrimmage in four years.
Barriga's 22-yard field goal after Brunker's fourth-quarter interception ended the scoring.
For the game Wood River (138 rushing yards, 162 passing) built a 421-213 advantage in total yards gained. Libert rushed for 101 yards and Cameron Rendahl (10 tackles) had two sacks on defense. Jared Rade added 10 tackles.
Preston is next opponent
Wood River travels Friday, Oct. 12 to play at Preston at 7 p.m. The scheduled JV grid game between the two schools Thursday, Oct. 11 in Hailey has been canceled due to the lack of Preston JV football players.
Last fall, Wood River captured its first-ever football victory over Preston, in Hailey, by a 40-32 score in a wild 10-touchdown, 1,008-yard marathon game. Libert rushed for 135 yards and one TD and Kramer (10-for-17, 185 yards) threw four TD passes to Danny Ward (160 yards).
Prior to that game, Wood River teams had lost five straight games to Preston by a 157-29 combined score. But that total includes a heartbreaking 7-6 loss on Wood River's last visit to Preston two years ago. Wolverine teams have always scored at Preston although that was the first time they managed to keep it close.
This year's Preston Indians (4-2, 3-0 home) have lost 28-22 at Bonneville and 27-14 at Minico while taking home wins over Rigby 47-0, Century 27-7 and Hillcrest 21-0 last Friday. The win over Century gave Preston its first-ever playoff berth.
Coach Glenn said, "Preston is pretty solid but I think we can play with them if we can move the football. They're very physical on defense so they'll make us earn what we get. On offense they have a couple of wide outs who can go up for the ball—athletic kids—and their quarterback throws the ball pretty well."
Since the Hailey junior varsity isn't playing this week, the JV players are scrimmaging with the varsity this week and are giving the big team some live repetitions in practice.
Michale Brunker's 89-yard TD pass reception from Sean Bunce was Wood River's longest scoring play from scrimmage since Oct. 10, 2003, when QB Brandon Silvia hit Matt Pruett with a 95-yard TD pass in a 23-14 Wolverine loss at Buhl....The energy from the Wood River band pumped up the crowd. The fabulous Drum Line got home fans excited at halftime and band director Tony Randall's drummers stayed around to keep the energy level high in the third quarter when the Wolverines did most of their damage.... Burley has now lost 16 consecutive games over three seasons and the Bobcats on Oct. 12 will host a hungry Pocatello squad (3-3) coming off a thrilling 41-35 Holt Arena loss to Highland (5-1) last Friday. This year's Bobcats have scored only 28 points in seven games. Last fall they scored 55 points in eight losses....Senior Chris Coupe and junior Cody Chandler didn't play Friday but the linemen are expected back for Preston. Coach Glenn said 245-pound sophomore Sam Schwab did a good job at offensive center against Burley. The coach added, "Our patchwork lineup held its own and did a nice job."