POCATELLO | The stories building up to Thursday’s showdown wrote themselves.
Gooding has grown by leaps and bounds each year under head coach Cameron Andersen, but Shelley remained the team’s foil.
For the last two years, Gooding had reached the state semifinals only to run into the Russet buzzsaw. A blowout the first year became a closer contest in the second matchup. With the Russets burdened by three losses and the Senators 9-0, would this be the year Gooding broke through?
Nope, not this time.
Shelley survived a back-and-forth second half to win 20-15 at Holt Arena, giving the Senators their first loss of the season and ending their playoff run for the third straight year, this time a step further back in the 3A quarterfinals.
Historical context aside, Gooding simply did not look like itself as the game opened. Shelley running back Jason Hathaway gashed the Senators typically stout defense on play after play on the opening drive.
Even when the drive eventually ended on a turnover on downs, the Senators’ offense was equally out of synch. Workhorse senior running back Josh Finley did not touch the ball on his team’s first possession.
Every time momentum seemed to turn toward the Senators courtesy of their defense, an offensive blunder reversed it right back. A goal line stand resulted in a drive only to midfield. A defensive three-and-out was followed by Williams’ second pick.
Finally, in the half’s final minutes, Gooding appeared to rediscover its offense. Williams scrambled for 18 yards on fourth-and-15 to put his team in the red zone.
With time for just one more play and 17 yards to go, the Senators chose a classic flea flicker. Junior Clancy Cockerham nabbed the pass from Wyatt Williams, but was blown up by defenders less than a yard from pay dirt.
Nonetheless, the offense seemed to have its mojo back, zipping down the field in trademark fashion. Williams scrambled on play after play, throwing the defense off guard and allowing Josh Finely to reassert himself in the passing game.
One such play gave the Senators 18 yards and the ball at the 1. With plenty of time this time, Williams snuck it in one play later.
However, Russet quarterback Bryon Leckington rediscovered his legs as well, using several draw plays to open space for receivers, including Tyler Bean for a 24-yard touchdown. Shelley led once more, 14-7.
With less than seven minutes remain and a fourth-and-1 in its own territory, Shelley saw a chance to seal the deal. The gamble did not pay off, though as Leckington was felled for a sack.
One play later, Finley broke through the middle for a 35-yard score. Doing some gambling of its own, Gooding took a 15-14 lead on a Williams run to the left.
This time, Leckington responded with his arm. A 48-yard toss to Bean put Shelley in enemy territory while a 17-yard dart to the back of the endzone put the Russets up 20-15 with 3:03 remaining.
Gooding came within 20 yards of the end zone, but two straight sacks of Williams pushed them back to fourth-and-28. A trick play put the ball in Cockerham’s hands once more, but his pass fell incomplete, and with it Gooding’s season.
Shelley 20, Gooding 15
S – Robison 1 run (run failed) 2:09
G – Williams 1 run (Ogle kick) 7:44
S – Bean 24 pass from Leckington (Leckington run) 3:14
G – Finley 35 run (Williams run) 6:49
S – Bean 17 pass from Leckington (pass failed) 3:03