By JON MENTZER
Express Staff Writer
It could be said that Friday night's home game against the Burley Bobcats was the most crucial of all games this season for the Wood River High School varsity football team.
Playoff hopes hung in the balance and Wood River seniors played one last time before a home crowd at Phil Homer Field. And coach Kevin Stilling and his boys heeded the call.
As both teams mashed out plenty of ground game, the Wood River Wolverines took control of their destiny. They flashed defensive integrity and marched away with a home win over Burley, 27-6.
"It was a huge win (for the seniors)," Stilling said after the game. "The one thing they'll look back on years from now is this senior night. It's their last home game with their buddies and friends and guys who shared the blood, sweat and tears with—a big win."
Wood River (5-3 overall, 2-2 league) was coming off back-to-back losses against Minico and Twin Falls so this win was very important. Burley (2-5, 1-3) was coming off win against Buhl and hoped to continue with another. But the 'Cats ran into a stingy Wood River defense.
The Wolverine defense, yielding an average of just over two touchdowns a game, or 16.4 ppg, has come a long way from 22.5 ppg last fall and 31.1 ppg two years ago. But the offense has stepped up over a three-year period—28.3 ppg this year, 15.1 ppg in 2010, 8.4 ppg in 2009.
And the Hailey running offense kept plugging away effectively with 319 yards on 33 carries, up to 2,492 season yards.
Senior running back Greg Lindbloom showcased his gritty running style and helped carry Wood River with 194 yards rushing on 23 carries and two scores in the game.
Lindbloom now stands at 1,205 rushing yards (16 TD) in eight games, within striking range of Scott Bartlett's single-season Wolverine mark of 1,318 set in 2005. Lindbloom (1,642 rushing yards career) is also within range of Tom Sluder's all-time record of 1,712.
Throughout Friday's contest, Wood River capitalized on Burley's mistakes and its over-pursuance of Wood River's sweeps. In the end, the Wolverines kept slamming dives up the middle and overpowering Burley's defensive line, which had no answer for Wood River's fierce style.
It was a good night to be a Wood River offensive lineman. The big boys up front pushed and shoved Burley's defense around all night making it easy for any Wood River running back to have a great night.
On the shoulders of seniors Jake Vegwert and Kevin Cooley, and juniors Ben Williams, James "Buck" Horn and Chris Carnes, Wood River's offense was in sync most of the game.
"(The offensive line) has played hard all year," Lindbloom said. "They stepped up a lot from last year. They never gave up on (us) and I love them for it."
Because each team relied on running for its offense, the game itself was a quick one.
Burley relied heavily on its own running game and ate up nearly the entire first quarter. It seemed like the only aspect that Burley controlled was the game clock. The Bobcats ran up over 30 minutes of possession. Yet on its first drive the 'Cats turned the ball over on downs when a holding penalty forced them into a third-and-20.
Wood River senior defensive end Connor Braatz, who manhandled Burley all game, batted down Burley quarterback Tommy Cantu's pass to force a fourth and 20. On the ensuing play a pass from Cantu fell incomplete to give Wood River its first possession of the game with only a minute left in the first quarter.
Wood River opened the floodgates when it scored its first points of the game just six plays and 68 yards later on a nifty 41-yard run by junior running back Ian Keys.
The Wolverine defense then clamped its teeth down on Burley's offense to force another turnover on downs. After an uncharacteristic fumble by Lindbloom on Wood River's second series, Burley couldn't do anything of offense and was forced to punt.
"After the fumble in the first quarter, I played as hard as I could," Lindbloom said. "Our outside game really helped open the inside. Everyone was blocking their hardest."
The turnover wasn't enough to slow down Wood River, though. Burley punted on its next series and Wood River again capitalized on what Burley gave the Wolverines.
With the ball on Burley's 15-yard line, senior running back Trace Tupper took the ball for a touchdown scamper to go up by two scores.
"We took what they gave us," said Stilling. "We had a group effort up front and had great blocking all night. The kids just kept their nose to the grindstone. We didn't take the foot off the gas pedal."
Wood River maintained an edge on defense and controlled the ball on offense. Despite a second-half score from Burley's sophomore running back Zander Cook, Wood River didn't miss a step when Lindbloom burst through the offensive line and took the ball for a 37-yard ride to the end zone.
The defensive front hassled Burley's Cantu all game. They became a wall and wore down Burley's attack, forcing the Bobcats to punt, turn the ball over on downs or turn the ball over via interception.
The few times Burley decided to pass, it became costly. Senior defensive back Braxton Parish tipped a half-back pass from Burley's Jackson Kunz in the fourth quarter, which landed in the hands of fellow Wolverine senior defensive back Chance Larkin.
On the next possession for the Wolverines, Wood River capped the game off and put the score out of reach on another Lindlboom score, which was a 33-yard right up the gut.
Keys finished with 86 yards on the ground with a 21.5 yard per carry average; and Tupper had 31 yards on five carries.
Wood River's defense came up big when it had to, tallying up three sacks for 14 yards by Braatz, Carnes and K.J. Savaria. Junior Drew Barsch led the team with 16 total tackles, followed by Lindbloom with 14, with Larkin and senior Austin Hafer who each had 11.
See today's Express Web site for complete statistics.
Great 8 playoff on the line
Friday's win puts Wood River tied for third place in the 4A Great Basin Conference. And three teams from the six-team conference will qualify for the state-qualifying Great 8 playoffs on Friday, Oct. 28.
Stilling said Wood River would be facing a similar style of offense and defense in this Friday's road test against Canyon Ridge in Twin Falls. The winner advances in the playoffs and the loser will go home.
Canyon Ridge (4-4, 2-2) lost 18-6 to Twin Falls (5-2, 3-1) last Friday and has scored one touchdown in the past two weeks. But the Riverhawks (21.2 ppg offense, 28.9 ppg defense) will be motivated to nail down their first playoff berth.
Wood River, with Friday's win over Burley, clinched the school's first plus-.500 season since back-to-back 5-4 campaigns in 1999 and 2000. With a win at Canyon Ridge Friday, the Wolverines will nail down their first Great 8 football playoff berth since 2007.
In its two meetings with Canyon Ridge, Wood River has won 21-6 in Hailey and 9-8 on the Twin Falls field in 2009.
The winner of Friday's Wood River-Canyon Ridge game will travel to the 6th District champion in the Great 8 playoffs. That's likely to be undefeated Blackfoot (7-0, 4-0 league), which will nail down the High Country Conference title with a road win at Hillcrest (5-2, 3-1) Friday, Oct. 21.
Blackfoot, State 4A champion in 2009 and 2007 and last year's championship game finalist against Bishop Kelly (BK won 41-28), romped 45-21 at Bonneville of Idaho Falls (4-3, 2-2) last Friday—with 563 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Hillcrest lost at Shelley (4-3, 2-2) 28-20.
The Great Basin championship game will occur Friday when Twin Falls (5-2, 3-1) visits defending GBC champion Minico (8-0, 4-0). The Bruins have won four straight since their 16-6 upset loss to Burley, while Minico (43.1 ppg offense) has won 13 of its last 14 games.
WRHS Line Score
Wood River 27, Burley 6
Burley 0 0 6 0 6
WOOD RIVER 0 14 6 7 27
Wood River—Ian Keys, 41-yard run (Trevor Brand kick); 11:38 2nd (7-0 WR)
Wood River—Trace Tupper, 15-yard run (Brand kick); 2:04 2nd (14-0 WR)
Burley—Zander Cook, 13-yard run (conversion failed; 3:11 3rd (14-6 WR)
Wood River—Greg Lindbloom, 48-yard run (kick failed); 2:14 3rd (20-6 WR)
Wood River—Lindbloom, 33-yard run (Brand kick); 00:58 4th (27-6 WR)
KEY STATS WOOD RIVER BURLEY
Offensive plays 36 68
Time of possession 16:17 31:43
1st downs, rush 6 10
1st downs, pass 0 1
1st downs, penalty 8 5
1st downs, total 14 16
Rushes, yards 33-319 55-204
Yards per carry 9.6 3.7
Fumbles lost 2 0
Completions, passes 0-3 5-13
Completion percentage 0% 38%
Passing yards 0 55
Yards per completion 0 11.0
Intercepted by 0 1
Sacks by, yards 3-14 0-0
Returns, yards 2-19 5-47
Total yards gained 338 306
Third down efficiency 3-5 9-15
Fourth down efficiency 0-0 1-3
Penalties 5-49 8-60
Punts, yardage 2-50 2-40
Yards per punt 25.0 20.0
INDIVIDUAL LEADERS—Wood River
Rushing— Greg Lindbloom 23-194, 4 1sts, 2 TD; Ian Keys 4-86, 1 1st, 1 TD; Trace Tupper 5-31, 1 1st, 1 TD; Braxton Parish 1-8.
Passing—Tommy Bailey 0-3, 0 yards.
Interceptions (1)—Chance Larkin, 1-2.
Sacks (5)—Chris Carnes 1-5; K.J. Savaria 1-4; Connor Braatz 1-5.
Tackles (58)— Drew Barsch 16, Greg Lindbloom 14, Chance Larkin 11, Austin Hafer 11, Jake Vegwert 8, Ben Williams 6, Braxton Parish 4, Kevin Cooley, Connor Bratz 4, Calub Castle 4, Gus Conrad 4, Joe McGonigal 3, K.J. Savaria 3, Colton Larkin 3, Connor Farrow 3, Trace Tupper 1, David Soares 1, John Reigle 1, Chris Carnes 1, Tommy Bailey 1.
Rushing leaders—Brayden McCracken 22-106, 6 1sts; Jackson Kunz 15-43, 1 TD; Anthony Martinez 4-22, 2 1sts; Antonio Ramirez 3-22; Zander Cook 1-13, 1 TD; Jason Rebollozo 4-9; Chris Daylay 3-6; Tommy Cantu 3, -18.
Passing—Tommy Cantu 5-10, 55 yards; Jackson Kunz 0-2, 1 interception.
Receiving—Zander Cook 1-34; Jackson Kunz 2-23; Antonio Ramirez 1, -2.
Tackle (50)—Zander Cook 6, Connor Ontiveros 5, Jackson Kunz 5, Ryan Matthews 5, Jason Rebollozo 4, Braydon McCracken 4, Tommy Cantu 4, Antonio Martinez 3, Antonio Ramirez 2, Trent Winn 1, Marcos Padron 1.
Wood River Composite
Opponents 27 47 22 35 131 (16.4)
Wood River 61 68 40 57 226 (28.3)
RESULTS (5-3 overall, 3-2 home, 2-1 away, 2-2 Great Basin Conference)
Aug. 26 (Home) Sugar-Salem 25, Wood River 22
Sept. 2 (Home) Wood River 21, Buhl 8
Sept. 9 (Away) Wood River 72, Wendell 13
Sept. 16 (Away) Wood River 20, Gooding 6
Sept. 23 (Home) Wood River 35, Jerome 22
Sept. 30 (Away) Minico 34, Wood River 15
Oct. 7 (Home) Twin Falls 17, Wood River 14
Oct. 14 (Home) Wood River 27, Burley 6
SCORING TD CONV PTS.
Greg Lindbloom 16 1 98
Ian Keys 5 0 30
Trace Tupper 4 0 24
Gus Conrad 1 10 16
K.J. Savaria 2 0 12
Tommy Bailey 2 0 12
Trevor Brand 0 12 12
Braxton Parish 1 1 8
Austin Hafer 1 0 6
Colton Larkin 1 0 6
Note: Wood River also has a 2-point safety.
Touchdown passes—Austin Hafer 1. Conversion passes—0. Notes—Wood River has scored in 24 of 32 quarters....Wood River has successfully made 24 of 33 conversions (73% success rate)....Wood River has scored 33 TD—30 on runs from scrimmage, 1 on passes, 2 on kickoff or punt returns, 0 on defense.