KIMBERLY — Mike Needham watched from the sidelines as his Gooding High School football team lost to Kimberly last season. He nearly experienced the same thing on Friday.

Needham, who tore his hamstring last season, suffered a lower body injury, as he put it, last Saturday against Priest River. The senior running back was considered questionable leading into Friday’s game, and he woke up Friday still unsure if he’d suit up.

But this was the Kimberly game. His injury would need to be especially serious to prevent him from playing.

Sure enough, Needham played, and he rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries. He was one of many Gooding players that excelled.

Gooding prevailed 28-20 over Kimberly in both team’s Sawtooth Idaho Central Conference opener. The victory put the Senators in prime position to reclaim the conference title, which the Bulldogs ripped away from them one year ago.

“Coming into this game, I wanted it pretty bad, not just for me, but for my brothers, the seniors,” Needham said. “We came together as a unit in this game.”

Neither team scored in the first quarter, which indicated a defensive struggle was to come. That wasn’t exactly untrue, but both teams ripped off long scoring plays.

Gooding opened the scoring with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Shane Jennings to Cayden Loveland on third down and 17 early in the second quarter.

One play after the extra point, Kimberly’s McKade Huft returned a kick 90 yards for the game-tying score.

Gooding led 13-7 at halftime and built the lead to 19-7 with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Jennings to Josh Erickson.

That scoring play, which occurred midway through the third quarter, almost felt like the death knell. Gooding’s defense was shutting down the Bulldogs, and its offense was rolling. The Senators ended the game with a 504-168 advantage in total offense.

But big plays kept Kimberly alive. Two plays after Erickson’s touchdown catch, Dawson Cummins completed a deep pass to Blake Phillips, who ran the rest of the way for an 80-yard score.

Kimberly suddenly trailed by less than a touchdown, and it had chances late in the third quarter to take the lead. But Gooding’s defense was too much.

First, Gooding senior linebacker Sam Funkhouser helped force a fumble as the Bulldogs were driving into Senators territory. Kimberly made a fourth down stand a few plays later, but Funkhouser gave his team the ball back when he snatched a bobbled handoff out of mid air.

Kimberly kept fighting, but with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, Gooding junior Brayden Roe tackled Cummins in the end zone to put the Senators up 21-14.

“Our defense came here, and we showed out,” Funkhouser said.

Gooding went up 28-14 to start the fourth quarter, but Kimberly wouldn’t go away. On a long second down, Cummins found Huft on a screen, and Huft sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was missed, however, so Kimberly needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion just to tie.

Gooding’s defense didn’t let the Bulldogs come close.

A fourth down pass from Cummins with 1:36 left found the turf, which effectively ended it. Andersen made a V with his hands and yelled, “victory,” to tell his offense to line up in the victory formation, the easiest and most satisfying formation in football.

“That’s how you gut it out, boys,” Andersen screamed to his sideline after Cummins’ incompletion.

It was a group effort, with contributions from every aspect of the game.

“I just liked the kids’ mettle,” Andersen said. “In big situations, they’re just not phased.”

Jennings, a sophomore in his first year as Gooding’s starter, had a stellar dual-threat performance: 19-of-33, 293 yards, two TDs, two inteceptions; 106 yards and two TDs on 19 carries.

Loveland had 107 yards on four catches, and Erickson caught four balls for 83 yards.

For Kimberly, Phillips had 89 yards on three catches, and Huft had 76 yards on four receptions. Cummins was 9-of-19 for 171 yards, two TDs and a pick.

Gooding (5-1) hosts Filer on Thursday, and Kimberly (3-2) hosts Wendell the same day.

Gooding 28, Kimberly 20

Gooding 0 13 8 7 — 28

Kimberly 0 7 7 6 — 20

Second quarter

G — Cayden Loveland 74-yard pass from Shane Jennings (Loveland kick) 11:32

K — McKade Huft 90-yard kick return (Riley Hallett kick) 11:15

G — Shane Jennings 2-yard run (pass failed) 8:28

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Third quarter

G — Josh Erickson 29-yard catch from Shane Jennings (pass failed) 6:53

K — Blake Phillips 80-yard catch from Dawson Cummins (Hallett kick) 6:38

G — Cummins sacked in end zone by Brayden Roe 0:50

Fourth quarter

G — Jennings 3-yard run (Loveland kick) 11:55

K — Huft 66-yard pass from Cummins (kick failed) 8:53

HIGHLIGHTS

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