TWIN FALLS • Seven combined turnovers, 17 penalties (mostly on the offense), 450 combined yards and seemingly countless scoring opportunities turned back.
Canyon Ridge and Wood River played what could only be described as a defensive stalemate Friday night.
Ultimately, it was two of the most talented players on the field who found a way to checkmate a Riverhawks defense that had held the Wolverines out of the endzone multiple possessions started on its side of the board.
“(Wood River) made one more big play than we did,” Canyon Ridge head coach Sean Impomeni said. “That’s all that it came down to.”
Thanks to arguably the best passing combination in the Great Basin Conference — roommates Alec Nordsieck to Gunner Gibson — Wood River left the Magic Valley with a hard-fought 14-10 victory over a suddenly seemingly indomitable Canyon Ridge defense, courageously protecting its home turf on senior night.
Nordsieck found Gibson on 3rd and 17 for a 50-yard touchdown with under a minute left in the first half to tie the game at seven, a contest which to that point the Riverhawks seemed to be dominating, outside of its turnovers.
“That first one was lucky,” Gibson said. “Real lucky.”
The second one?
“Gunner?” Nordsieck asked rhetorically. “That’s my boy. We make those plays.”
Nordsieck found Gibson, the all-conference and state tight-end who had been releasing freely down the seam most of the game, 23 yards for the decisive score.
Nordsieck said he was playing with something to prove, saying he was motivated by a preview by a different publication comparing him to Canyon Ridge’s quarterback.
“(Garcia) is really talented, really athletic and a good quarterback,” Nordsieck said. “But I came to prove myself. Thanks to my teammates we made that happen.”
The win puts Wood River in a position to host a playoff game and get the No. 2 seed from District IV, should it defeat Spartans in Rupert next week. And despite the loss, there’s an outside chance that the Riverhawks playoff hopes are still alive as well, should the dominoes fall in place for the at-large fourth seed.
While some of offensive struggles had to do with poor decisions and miscues in execution, Friday night’s game played out much like a playoff contest would between two relatively evenly matched and well-scouted teams.
“Our defense bent and didn’t break,” head coach Kevin Stilling said. “(Jacob) Bulotti had some huge pressers in backfield and Gunner was in the backfield all night.”
The Wolverines pressured Canyon Ridge quarterback Joseph Garcia all night, picking him off four times, sacking him four times.
Right defensive end Bulotti had three of his own, all coming from Garcia’s blindside.
“We just kept attacking,” Bulotti said. “We were more aggressive than normal.”
For the second straight week, the Riverhawks offense opened up. It led to some big and one spectacular plays — including a 34-yard catch by Kadun Allen on 3rd and 26 on the Riverhawks final drive, one which ended in Nordieck’s (who plays safety) second interception of the night.
Allen had a 44-yard reception earlier in the game.
Should both or either team make the playoffs, Friday night will serve it/them well.
“Canyon Ridge is a lot more physical,” Stilling said. “They punch you in the mouth than we have felt the last few weeks.”
And for the Riverhawks, a team which has begun to find confidence, according to Impomeni, who was still far from pleased, however, with a moral victory.
“I’m proud of our kids, especially since no one gives us shot, and no one has from day one,” Impomeni said. “I knew we could be close to Wood River, our kids have turned their mental part of the game around and that has radiated the last two weeks. But I’m not about making statements, I’m about winning football games.”
Canyon Ridge finishes up regular season play next week at Burley.
Nordsieck finished with 144 yards passing, completing just six passes however. Wood River ran for 59 yards on 15 attempts.
Canyon Ridge ran for 143 yards on the night.
Wood River 14, Canyon Ridge 10
Wood River 0 7 0 7—14
Canyon Ridge 7 0 3 0—10
Canyon Ridge — Barber 10 run (March Kick) 6:27
Wood River — Gibson 50 from Nordsieck (Koth kick) :59.7
CR — March 27 kick 1:32
WR — Gibson 23 from Nordsieck (Koth kick)