With their team leading 13-0 in the fourth quarter, Wendell Trojan players, coaches and fans felt pretty good about their chances during Friday's non-conference prep football game against the Wood River Wolverines on the Trojan gridiron.
They didn't expect a stirring Wood River comeback. They certainly didn't foresee losing the football game on a clutch extra point kicked by a member of Wood River's 2009 district championship softball team, sophomore Haylee Thompson.
But that's what happened—a bitter pill to swallow for Wendell but a great victory for the Wood River Wolverines.
Wood River, scoring two touchdowns in the final nine minutes, stunned the Trojans 14-13 and thus snapped an 11-game road losing streak dating back a couple of fall seasons.
The improbable win, the first for new head coach Kevin Stilling, culminated an exciting two-day stretch for the Wolverine football program that included Thursday's 44-12 home junior varsity triumph over Wendell. It's been a while since the Wood River varsity and JV won on successive nights.
The outcome was a testament to Wood River's never-say-die attitude that included a 53-yard touchdown run by Nathan Farrow on fourth down-and-six, and a 40-yard TD pass from quarterback Juan Martinez to receiver Nick Chase with one minute left.
Stilling said, "We were down 13-0 in the fourth quarter and found a way to win. The kids fought hard and never quit. I couldn't have asked for more from them. It was a game I'll always remember, since it was my first win as a head coach."
Clinching Wood River's first football win at Wendell in nine years were two extra points booted by first-year placekicker Thompson. Never before had the rangy Wolverine softball outfielder made an extra point in a game, in fact, Wendell had blocked her 30-yard field goal attempt in the first half.
The pressure was on after senior quarterback Martinez boot-legged to the left with a minute left and found junior Chase behind the defense on a post pattern for the 40-yard score that tied the score 13-13.
"Great throw, great route and great blocking," said Stilling. "I told Haylee to take a deep breath and keep her head down. Both of her extra-point kicks were deep in the center and plenty high enough."
Clinging to the one-point lead with about a minute left and Wendell determined to rally on its home field, Martinez entered the game on defense for the first time as free safety, in place of junior John Bartoletta (cramp). Martinez intercepted Wendell's first play, a pass over the middle.
Game over, upset done.
"We were in Wendell's territory two or three times in the first half and didn't score," said Stilling about the 0-0 halftime score. "They scored twice in the third quarter and our kids started to have some doubts. But coach (Jeff) Loomis and I told the kids to hang in there."
The Wolverines didn't have the greatest situation, positioned on the short side of the field with fourth down-and-six. Stilling decided to go for the first down and called the number of junior running back Farrow. The Wendell defense was fully prepared to stop a run.
Farrow had different ideas.
Stilling said, "Nathan ran over two kids. He's a hard runner. It was a great individual effort with great blocking, and it was huge in our comeback."
Wood River (1-1, 0-0 league) snapped a four-game grid losing streak to coach Brad Neuendorf's Wendell team (1-1), which had already won a close game 14-12 in overtime over the Valley Vikings Sept. 4 in Eden.
Junior running back Willie Dugger (18 carries for 56 yards) and Farrow (57 yards on 5 carries) led Wood River's 101-yard rushing attack. Martinez (3-for-13, 60 yards) completed all three of his passes in the fourth quarter. Top tackler on defense was Farrow, while junior middle linebacker Kasey Barker also had a fine game for Hailey.
Next up is another non-conference road game at Gooding (0-2) on Friday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. The Senators have lost at Glenns Ferry 54-16 Sept. 4 and at home to Valley 20-14 Friday.
"It should be a good match-up for us," said Stilling.
Gooding has lost eight straight grid games over two seasons starting with last year's 31-13 setback in Hailey. Wood River built a 31-0 lead at half and out-rushed Gooding 234-85, led by Sean Bunce (39 carries, 168 yards, 1 TD). The Senators had four turnovers.
Actually, Gooding has dropped 18 of its last 19 games interrupted only by last year's 27-13 road victory over Valley. And Wood River has enjoyed success in recent years, taking five of the last seven grid meetings with Gooding by a combined 183-32 score. Overall, Gooding still leads the series since the 1960s by a 24-8 count.