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By Jaryd Cline
Sports editor 

Cougars' run ends after loss to Naselle in state quarterfinals


November 21, 2018

Jaryd Cline

Junior Brandon Montoya takes down the Naselle ballcarrier while Kurtis Billette (far left) and Sam McCullough (22) pursue the play.

What was a four-point game in the waning seconds of the second half turned into a big win for the Naselle Comets as they knocked off the Lyle-Wishram-Klickitat Cougars 68-38 in the quarterfinals of the WIAA 2018 Football State Championships on Saturday in Woodland.

Trailing 18-14 with just seconds left in the first half, the Cougs allowed a touchdown on the last play of the half, while the Comets added touchdowns on their first two possessions of the third quarter to take control of the game.

Naselle broke the game open after scoring less than three minutes into the third quarter, recovering an onside kick, and scoring again to take a 42-14 lead while less than six minutes had passed in the quarter.

"They are a good team. Very discipline. They run their routes well and we got beat by a better team (Saturday)," Lyle-Wishram-Klickitat head coach Antoine Montoya said.

The Comets were led by a balanced run and pass game on offense and forced some timely turnovers on defense which helped push them past the Cougs.

They also had an accurate air attack which seemed to pick up enough yards on every third down situation the Cougar defense faced, and four different Comets recorded touchdown receptions.

On the other side of the ball, the Comets were led by their defensive line which seemed to get pressure on whoever was taking snaps for the Cougs.

"That was a concern for us was the line and it showed (Saturday)," Montoya said. "There was a lot of pressure."

Whether it was Kurtis Billette, DaSean Leslie, or Brandon Montoya at quarterback, Naselle was able to bring pressure and disrupt the Cougs' passing attack for much of the game. The pressure led to sacks and put the Cougs in many situations where they needed to pick up big chunks of yardage to move the chains and keep drives going.

"We had our moments," Montoya said. "We came out here and saw some good things.

Aside from allowing the late score at the end of the second quarter and a fumble (which also looked like an incomplete pass) on the second possession that Naselle ran back to the house, the Cougs had a strong first half and settled down after their turnover.

After Naselle went up 12-0 with the fumble return and facing a third and three, junior running back Brandon Montoya got the ball, got to the outside, and outran everyone to the endzone for a quick 73 yard touchdown. They trailed 12-6 after a failed two-point conversion, but knew they could score at any time on offense. It took less than two minutes after Naselle scored its second touchdown for the Cougs to answer.

After another Naselle touchdown and trailing 18-6, the teams traded possessions until Billette, a senior, hit fellow senior Jarren Leslie from nine yards out in the endzone with 2:48 left in the second quarter. Montoya punched in the conversion for two more points and just like that the Cougs were down just 18-14.

On their previous two defensive possessions, the Cougars forced a turnover on downs and made Naselle punt, but after that, the Comets started to roll and were tough to slow down.

They scored from 20 yards out on the last play of the half after taking possession at the Cougar 25 with about 10 seconds left and carried that momentum through halftime and into the third quarter.

The Comets scored the first 22 points of the second half to build a 48-14 lead just six minutes into the quarter but the Cougs continued to battle.

Montoya scored again on a huge running play from the Cougar 40, taking it 60 yards to the endzone while Billette and Jarren Leslie connected for two more points, cutting the LWK deficit to 48-22 with just under two minutes left to play in the third.

But the Comets continued to move the ball on offense. They put together a 65 yard scoring drive and capped it with a one-yard rushing score on the second play of the fourth quarter and looked to have the game wrapped up leading 56-22.

On the ensuing kickoff, Montoya was deep, but had his back turned when the Naselle kicked booted it to him, and only after everyone on the Cougar sideline yelled his name, did he whip around, find the ball, make a few moves, find some open space, and take it 93 yards to the house. Senior Sam McCullough punched in the two-point conversion, but time was running out and Naselle couldn't really be stopped.

They added two more touchdowns, but missed on a two-point conversion that would have put them up 40 and started the running clock with 3:41 to go.

DaSean Leslie moved under center on the final possession for the Cougars and picked up nine yards on a scramble on fourth and eight, setting up one more big play for the explosive offense. With 30 seconds to go, Leslie dropped back, and saw McCullough, who was running a fly route, had beaten his man by a few steps. Leslie fired a dart, McCullough caught it in stride, and sprinted all the way into the endzone for the 71 yard score.

It was an awesome play to finish the season on, but also a reminder that McCullough, the Leslies, and a handful of other playmakers for the Cougs played their final high school game on the gridiron.

"It's going to be sad to see our seven seniors go away," Montoya said.

He also said it was a little tougher to see this year's senior class play their last high school games since there's a couple kids than he and defensive coordinator Detmar McCullough had coached every year since peewee.

DaSean and Jarren Leslie, along with Sam McCullough, have been with coaches Montoya and McCullough for years. It was emotional for the coaches to see them, along with fellow seniors Chaz Castillo, Hunter Dawson, Gerry Kindrick, Kurtis Billette, and Zane Middaugh, play their last football game for the Cougars.

However, just like they did after last season, the Cougs should reload with talent and again be an exceptional football team.

The team reached the state tournament for the first time in decades last season and also graduated a handful of talented seniors. They were an 11 man team last year which makes the state appearance even more impressive and dropped back to eight-man this year and didn't skip a beat.

Last Saturday's state quarterfinal loss capped a busy last couple of weeks for the Cougars, which included three full games, and tons of travel, in just eight days.

"I honestly felt like somebody had it out for us – you know what I mean – just the way that everything fell," Montoya said jokingly.

After the Cougs final regular season game, a 44-12 win over North Beach on Nov. 2, they were back on the gridiron four days later as they started their road to state with a play-in game against Garfield-Palouse, a team that had lost just one game and was ranked among the top 10 best eight man teams in the state.

Lyle-Wishram took care of them 38-16 to keep its season alive, and needed to beat one more team to reach the state tournament for the second straight season. The team that was waiting for the Cougs was Entiat, also a top-10 eight man team which boasted an 8-2 record before playing the Cougs.

Jaryd Cline

Lyle-Wishram-Klickitat head coach Antoine Montoya talks with the Cougs moments after falling to Naselle.

Antoine Montoya and the Cougs knew they could beat Entiat if they played how they can, but that game was played on Nov. 10, marking the Cougs third game in eight days. They cruised past Entiat 77-22 on the turf field at the Apple Bowl in Wenatchee to reach the state tournament, where they were seeded sixth in the eight-team tournament.

Naselle will play Almira-Coulee-Hartline, last year's state champs, in the state semifinals. ACH beat Crescent 100-16 in the quarterfinals.

Top seeded Odessa beat Neah Bay 71-8 and fifth seeded Quilcene scored late to beat No. 4 Sunnyside Christian 54-50.

The semifinals are set for Saturday and the state championship game will be played on Dec. 1 in the Tacoma Dome.


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