It's not often you can describe a 12-8 high school football game as wild, wacky and totally unpredictable. It's rare that the best player on the field turns out to be a nose guard.
But that was the situation Friday on a mild autumn night at Gooding's Keller Field, where the Senators pulled off a rare football victory on Homecoming Night 12-8 over the visiting Wood River Wolverines.
Keep in mind both programs weren't accustomed to winning football games in recent years—Gooding having lost 18 of 19 games dating back a couple of seasons, and Wood River having won three of 22 games going back to the 2006 season.
So, closing the deal wasn't a common thing for either team. That's what made the final 12 minutes terrifically exciting for the Homecoming crowd. Turnovers, controversial calls and frequent clock mismanagement turned the usual football chaos into even more on-field chaos.
In the middle of it all was Wood River senior nose guard Evan Puluti (4 QB sacks, a team-leading 11 tackles).
Puluti's relentless penetration turned it around for Wood River's defense, which had allowed 129 rushing yards in the first half. After intermission, Gooding rushed 18 times for a miniscule 27 yards. Eleven times after half the Senators were thrown for sizable losses.
In the handshake line after the wild ending, Gooding head coach Cameron Andersen singled out Puluti for special congratulations and encouragement. Puluti said, "He told me there was nothing they could do to stop me. He encouraged me to keep up the good work when we go against the bigger schools in our league."
First-year Wood River coach Kevin Stilling said, "That's two straight strong games for Evan. He's one year older and has a better attitude this year. He knows what he has to do to help the defense do its job."
Puluti, a two-way player who also plays on the offensive line for Wood River, said, "I was tired but I had to keep pushing and do all I could."
Unfortunately for Wood River (1-2), coming off an upset 14-13 non-conference victory at Wendell Sept. 11, the Senators (1-2) got the breaks and made their breaks to snap an eight-game, two-season losing skid.
Gooding sophomore defensive back Brayden Urrutia was the Senator star of the night, starting with his first of three interceptions in the second quarter. He went up in the air and wrestled the ball away from Alex Padilla in the end zone to prevent a touchdown.
The Senators embarked on their best drive of the game, a 12-play, 80-yard attack covering nearly six minutes and ending with a 17-yard touchdown pass from junior Jake Davis to senior Kris Erickson on fourth down-and-six. One of many Gooding fourth down conversions on the night, it gave the Senators a 6-0 advantage.
But no lead was safe and nothing was taken for granted as Wood River seriously threatened before intermission.
The second of three Padilla interceptions gave the Wolverines a chance with 28 seconds left at their own 30-yard-line.
Nathan Farrow (11 carries, 62 yards) rushed for nine yards, and quarterback Juan Martinez threw a 58-yard Hail Mary pass to wide-open Jake Miczulski. Gooding's Case Pierson made a TD-saving tackle at the one-yard-line and the clock ran out on Wood River.
With Puluti starting to throw his weight around and Gooding's attack in full retreat, the third period was scoreless. Wood River staged its best drive of the game from its 15-yard-line starting the fourth—after Padilla's third pick.
Farrow started the 11-play, 85-yard drive with a 25-yard gainer. Senior Tyler Peters (9 rushes, 74 yards) took over with five carries for 39 yards including a two-yard TD plunge behind the blocking of senior Eric Santana and juniors Albert Thomas and Isaiah Garza.
The ferocious Wood River defensive penetration led by Puluti gained great field possession with six minutes left in the 6-6 game. But, with a huge rush on Martinez on fourth-and-four, Urrutia intercepted a pass and returned it into Hailey territory. Once again, Padilla came up big—intercepting a pass and returning it 25 yards.
Flag on the field, though. The officials whistled pass interference, although the pass had been terribly under-thrown and the receiver was well covered. Stilling and his coaching staff disagreed with the call.
Instead of Wood River having the ball at midfield and going for the winning score with two minutes left, Gooding had the ball at the Wolverine 35. On the first play, Pierson (14 carries, 80 yards) ran untouched around right end for a 35-yard TD run and 12-6 Senator lead.
The final two minutes were something out of the Wild West. Wood River actually had a great shot at the go-ahead TD with 32 seconds left, but a perfect Martinez heave to a wide open receiver was dropped in the Senator end zone. And the final Hailey drive stalled with a fumble at the Gooding 25.
Wood River debuts its Great Basin Conference schedule Friday, Sept. 25 at four-time defending league champion Minico (2-2, 1-0 league). Minico won 29-0 at Burley last Friday.
WRHS Line Score
Gooding 12, Wood River 8
Wood River 0 0 0 8 8
GOODING 0 6 0 6 12
Gooding—Kris Erickson, 17-yard pass from Jake Davis (kick blocked); 3:29 2nd (6-0 G)
Wood River—Tyler Peters, 2-yard run (kick blocked); 8:11 4th (6-6)
Gooding—Case Pierson, 35-yard run (pass failed); 2:06 4th (12-6 G)
Wood River—Safety, Gooding punter Austin Basterrechea intentionally runs out of end zone; 0:43 4th (12-8 G)
KEY STATS WOOD RIVER GOODING
Offensive plays 58 67
Time of possession 19:40 28:20
1st downs, rush 6 9
1st downs, pass 3 0
1st downs, penalty 1 1
1st downs, total 10 10
Rushes, yards 32-156 40-156
Yards per carry 4.9 3.9
Fumbles lost 1 0
Completions, passes 5-16 6-16
Completion percentage 31% 38%
Passing yards 80 39
Yards per completion 16.0 6.5
Intercepted by 3 3
Sacks by, yards 4-34 0-0
Returns, yards 5-74 6-108
Total yards gained 310 269
Penalties 6-45 7-60
Punts, yardage 4-125 4-129
Yards per punt 31.3 32.3
INDIVIDUAL LEADERS—Wood River
Rushing—Tyler Peters 9-74, 2 1sts, 1 TD; Nathan Farrow 11-62, 2 1sts; Willie Dugger 4-7; Alex Padilla 5-13, 1 1st; Juan Martinez 1-3; Nick Chase 2, -3.
Passing—Juan Martinez 5-16, 80 yards, 3 1sts, 3 interceptions.
Receiving—Jake Miczulski 3-70, 2 1sts; Tyler Peters 2-10, 1 1st.
Interceptions (3)—Alex Padilla 3 with 36 yards in returns.
Sacks (4)—Evan Puluti 4-34.
Kickoff returns—Evan Puluti 2-10; Willie Dugger 1-5.
Punt returns—Alex Padilla 1-23.
Tackles (65)—Evan Puluti 11, Kevin Jensen 10, Nick Chase 9, Braxton Parish 8, Tyler Peters 7, Willie Dugger 5, Jose Patlan 4, Lashon Smith 3, Albert Thomas 3, John Bartoletta 2, Nathan Farrow 2, Kasey Barker 1.
Rushing leaders—Case Pierson 14-80, 2 1sts, 1 TD; Austin Basterrechea 6-42, 3 1sts; Jake Davis 11-23, 2 1sts; Derek Christiansen 1-9, 1st; Jason Rost 8-2, 1 1st.
Passing—Jake Davis 6-16, 39 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions.
Receiving—Kris Erickson 2-15, 1 TD; Austin Basterrechea 2-5; Derek Christiansen 1-14; Jason Rost 1-5.
Fumble recoveries (1)—Jesse Campa 1.
Interceptions (3)—Brayden Urrutia 3 with 31 yards in returns.
Kickoff returns—Derek Christiansen 2-35.
Punt returns—Brayden Urrutia 2-31; Derek Christiansen 1-11.
Tackle leaders—Case Pierson 8, Derek Christiansen 7, Jake Arkoosh 5, Brayden Urrutia 5, Jason Rost 4, Jesse Campa 4, Jon Jensen 4, Jake Davis 3, Austin Basterrechea 3.