Carey Panther football players didn't lack for motivation Saturday when they took the turf field at friendly Holt Arena in Pocatello for the State 1A Division 2 semi-final game against the Richfield Tigers.
Their goal since the beginning of the 2008 season was to go undefeated and give Carey its fourth state football championship. Upset-minded Richfield, seeking its first state title in 22 years, stood between Carey and that unbeaten goal.
As Carey coach Lane Kirkland said last week, days before the eight-man semi-final, "We will be more prepared and ready for this game than any other before. It's one step away from the big one. We're excited to play Richfield again."
Since Carey is a relatively young team with only three seniors plus 11 juniors and eight sophomores, captain Heith Adamson felt obliged to say something in the locker room. Carey teams had won eight straight games indoors at Holt Arena dating back to 1991, but Adamson wasn't leaving anything to chance Saturday.
Eighth-year coach Kirkland said, "Heith gave a speech on winning before the game. It was two minutes of some of the greatest motivational stuff I've ever heard. And that's all that was needed to be said."
Carey's real statement came on the field, with crisp execution and tackling, and an offense that came to play. The players ripped through a banner that said "Bring It On," before the game, and continued ripping through Richfield after.
Scoring a season-high nine touchdowns, with six different players providing the scores, Carey (11-0) amassed its highest scoring output in eight years with a 66-20 victory over a Richfield team that seemed to be outclassed in the dome playoff atmosphere. Richfield (8-3) settled for a third-place trophy.
And not included in the nine Carey TDs that counted were two first-half TDs nullified by penalties—Adamson's 95-yard kickoff return and a 21-yard Gonzalo Zarate scamper.
Carey's big victory put the Panthers into the State 1A Division 2 title game for the third straight year, "quite an accomplishment," Kirkland said. Carey plays the Kootenai Warriors (11-0) for all the eight-man marbles Friday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. in the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome at Moscow.
In all, it was a good day for Carey, which enjoyed terrific field position for most of the second, third and fourth quarters and still managed to amass 579 total yards including 349 rushing yards. Richfield, in contrast, managed only 85 rushing yards and 277 overall.
Kirkland said, "We were due for a breakthrough on offense. We were finally able to unleash on offense and crank things up. All day long, we got the ball in great field position and had good balance—on defense, offense and on special teams."
Leading Carey's offense and defense and having his best day as a Panther football player was quarterback and linebacker Trevor Peck. Peck (51 rushing yards, 85 passing yards) rushed for two TDs, threw two TD passes, led the defense with 13 tackles and contributed a 10-yard sack.
Kirkland said, "Trevor Peck has really demonstrated leadership the last few games. His role is to lead the team and make good decisions. He has executed well from the quarterback position and has taken care of things on defense."
Peck, Zarate and Adamson were Carey's offensive guns—Peck turning two fourth-down plays into crucial touchdowns.
In the second, Peck hit Dillon Simpson with a 33-yard TD pass on fourth-and-four for a 22-8 lead. On the first play of the fourth, Peck circled right end on a six-yard QB keeper, on fourth-and-goal. The score gave Carey a 44-20 lead. Kirkland said, "Trevor's run on fourth and goal was the final blow."
Zarate rushed 17 times for a game-high 137 yards including a 78-yard TD run—Carey's longest run from scrimmage—that turned a relatively close 24-14 game into a 32-14 Carey advantage at halftime. Carey had the ball on a third-and-three at its own 22, with 1:35 left, when coach Kirkland called time out and visited with his offense.
"I looked at Gonzalo and said, Gonzalo, you take this one to the house," said Kirkland. And Zarate did, circling the right end and outrunning the Tiger defense for his 15th touchdown of the 2008 season.
At that point, Richfield was already deflated with the loss of its chief offensive threat, junior running back Michael Lezamiz. He broke his hand tackling Adamson in the second quarter and didn't return. But even before his injury, Lezamiz was a minor factor in the game.
Kirkland said, "You don't like to see a key player get hurt, because we like to compete against the best players the other teams have. But even before Lezamiz got hurt, we had Richfield on its heels."
Putting Richfield on its heels with a huge 53-yard punt midway through the second quarter was Carey's kicker Zarate. For some reason, possibly because Carey had faked a punt in its 34-28 win at Richfield Sept. 5, the Tigers didn't drop back a player to return Zarate's punt and the ball rolled all the way down to the two-yard-line.
It was a pivotal moment, providing Carey with great field position to score two more TDs in the final six minutes of the half. The scores extended Carey's lead from 16-8 to 32-14.
And, of course, Adamson (15 carries, 119 yards, 2 TD) was a stalwart leader on both sides of the ball. Midway through the scoreless first quarter, Adamson (9 tackles) tipped a Tel Clark down-and-out pass intended for Brody Norman. Junior Dillon Simpson intercepted the up-for-grabs ball and returned it 35 yards for Carey's first touchdown of the day.
Besides the two TDs apiece scored by Peck, Adamson and Simpson, and Zarate's long run, Carey junior Antonio Gamino (53 rushing yards) scored on a 34-yard fourth-quarter run and sophomore JC Baird tallied his first TD of the season on a 38-yard pass from Caleb Cenarrusa that ended it on the mercy rule with 2:21 left.
As always, Richfield senior Luke Wood was a reliable Tiger threat, rushing for 66 yards and slipping behind the Panther defense for three receptions covering 154 yards, including a 72-yard pass from Tel Clark.
Kootenai and Carey clash in Friday's title game
So, having exceeded the 500-point scoring level for the fourth straight season, and having improved its three-year record to 32-3, Carey is heading north to challenge a Kootenai squad that is seeking its first-ever state football title.
Carey, winners in 1994, 1998 and 2006, will be making the school's eighth appearance in the State 1A eight-man championship game—and they'll be trying to shed a Kibbie Dome monkey. Deary beat Carey for the eight-man title in 1993 and 1995 on the Moscow gridiron.
Kootenai (479 yards rushing, 617 yards offense) destroyed visiting Garden Valley 54-26 in Saturday's semi-final in Harrison. Six of eight Warrior TDs came on plays of 40 yards or more. Kirkland said, "As coach (Lee) Cook always says, a missed tackle is a touchdown."
The Carey coach added, "Their running backs are a little smaller than ours, but they're pretty shifty, especially Shannon (senior Ben Shannon, who rushed for 287 yards and 3 TDs against Garden Valley). Other teams tackle differently, but we tackle the legs. And we'll need to wrap up Friday.
"Kootenai has good size. They're a little bigger than us in two positions, and they have four key players back—Shannon, their quarterback Kolten Willms, running back Jake Hall (164 yards rushing, 3 TDs) and their huge 6-3, 210-pound tight end Dakota Amy.
"They'll pass a lot of quick outs to Amy—but he's never been tackled by a Carey Panther yet. We've gained a lot of experience being mentally tough this year and I think the determination will be there for us. The team has really come together. Friday's game is a great match-up for us."
Check today's Express Web site for full statistics from Saturday's Carey-Richfield clash.
PANTHER NOTES—Top-ranked Kootenai (11-0) had never won a state semi-final football game before Saturday's 54-26 home victory over #2-ranked Garden Valley (9-1) at Harrison Flats on the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene. That game represented only the second time all season that the Warriors have played all four quarters of a game instead of ending it early on the 45-point mercy rule......Coach Doug Napierala's Kootenai Warriors have outscored opponents 590 to 80, or 53.6 to 7.3 per game.....Last year, Kootenai (8-2) whipped Clark Fork in the State 1A Division 2 quarterfinals and then lost in the semi-finals at Riggins 20-18 to eventual state champion Salmon River (10-1).....Eight-man football championships in Idaho have been held 28 times since 1984—and the only northern Idaho teams to prevail over that span have been Kendrick (1991, 2000-01) and Deary (1993, 1995 and 1997)......Richfield's only state football championship came in 1986, 20-6 over Council in the Pocatello dome....Carey's 66 points Saturday were the most scored by a Panther team in a single game since a 68-18 rout of Sho-Ban at Fort Hall Sept. 22, 2000....Carey appeared in the state championship four straight years from 1992-95, losing to Council at Holt in 1992, losing to Deary in Moscow in 1993, beating Deary at Holt in 1994 and falling to Deary again in Moscow in 1995. The 44-42 state championship game win over Deary in 1998 was on the Holt gridiron, and Carey beat Salmon River 50-20 at Holt in 2006. Salmon River prevailed 46-42 last November at Boise's Bronco Stadium.....Carey has won all three of its state titles at Holt Arena, where the Panthers are 9-0 since 1991.