GOODING — The Gooding Senators admitted a lack of focus going into Saturday’s game, and it nearly cost them.

The key word is “nearly.”

Kellogg (6-3) was mere feet away from capturing an upset win, but Gooding (9-1) held on for a home win Saturday afternoon. The survival sent the Senators into their third straight 3A state semifinals.

“We definitely overlooked them,” Gooding senior linebacker Ruger Jennings said. “But a win’s a win.”

Gooding head coach Cameron Andersen began gameday at 7 a.m., and most of his preparation involved shoveling snow off the field. Two weeks ago, snow was barely a threat, but a lot can change in that span.

Before Saturday, Gooding’s most recent game was Oct. 20 against Buhl in the regular season finale. A blowout win over the Indians secured a first-round bye for the Senators, much to Andersen’s chagrin.

“I hate byes,” he said. “It’s hard to keep your eyes right there when you have so much time.”

A bye is meant to be a reward, and teams that get a week off usually do gain a health advantage. That can’t be said for the Senators. Last week, starting running back Mike Needham ruptured his pectoral muscle while weightlifting, according to Andersen. The senior didn’t suit up for Saturday’s game.

Needham’s injury made an already injury-plauged season extra painful for Gooding. Against Filer on Oct. 5, senior linebacker Sam Funkhouser — an Idaho State commit — suffered a season-ending leg injury.

“Losing two seniors, that’s tough,” Ruger Jennings said. “We started as a group and wanted to finish as a group.”

Those losses, however, didn’t hurt the Senators’ confidence going into Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. Gooding was the No. 3-ranked team in the state media poll, with its only loss this season to top-ranked Fruitland. Kellogg didn’t receive a vote in the poll, and it suffered its first of two losses to 2A St. Maries.

“We came in and thought we were gonna score 80 on them,” Gooding junior lineman Jake McGinnis said.

That thought was amplified by a touchdown and two-point conversion on the opening drive. But the Wildcats immediately responded with a scoring drive to tie the game.

The Senators broke the tie with 1:37 left in the half on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Shane Jennings to Shawn Pamplona, and they returned to the red zone after a Cayden Loveland interception. But time ran out before Gooding could attempt one more touchdown play or a field goal.

“Their linebackers reacted quick and their d-line was technically sound,” Gooding senior lineman Andrew Carter of Kellogg. “Plus, we didn’t play our best game. We have to clean some stuff up.”

After a scoreless third quarter, Kellogg tied it up midway through the fourth. The Wildcats considered a two-point conversion but settled for a point after attempt. The kick drilled an offensive lineman in the back.

Gooding promptly marched down the field. Kellogg looked the have the Senators stifled, but Shane Jennings completed a long fourth down pass to Loveland, and the two connected shortly thereafter for a touchdown.

Loveland, however, was ejected on the play after being called for his second personal foul penalty, which he received for his touchdown celebration. That left Gooding without four key players — Loveland, Needham, Funkhouser and Needhamn’s main replacement, junior Kade Morris, who suffered an injury in the fourth quarter.

With 2:54 remaining and points at a premium, Gooding’s 21-14 lead seemed safe. But Kellogg’s option-focused offense had some wrinkles.

A pair of trick pass plays to the tight end set up the Wildcats’ second touchdown. Shortly after Loveland’s touchdown, Kellogg pulled off a double pass that led to a long competition. The Wildcats scored on a 1-yard run the following play.

At first, Kellogg opted for a PAT try to tie the game. But head coach Dan Lucier called a timeout, then chose to go for two.

“I wasn’t worried if they ran the ball,” Andersen said. “My biggest worry was, ‘What trick play do they have dialed up?’”

The Wildcats called a run off left tackle. A push up front and a combined tackle from Carter and Ruger Jennings stopped Kellogg short and preserved Gooding’s lead with 2:13 to go.

“We were all looking scared there on the goal line, but we were all good,” Ruger Jennings said.

The Senators sealed the win on the ensuing drive, which was capped by a fourth down conversion run by Shane Jennings.

Gooding’s sophomore quarterback completed 15-of-24 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed 28 times for 124 yards and a touchdown, plus a lost fumble.

“I’m proud of Shane,” Andersen said. “We put the ball in his hands a lot today, and, missing a whole bunch of dudes off his offense, he did his job, and he did it well.”

Morris had 184 total yards, and Loveland tallied 88 yards on six catches.

Gooding plays Snake River in the semifinals on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at Holt Arena.

“We’re moving on,” Carter said. “Survive and advance.”

Gooding 21, Kellogg 20

Kellogg 8 0 0 12 — 20

Gooding 8 6 0 7 — 21

First quarter

G — Shane Jennings 14-yard run (Jennings run) 7:49

K — Chase Jerome 1-yard run (Ryan Morgan run) 2:57

Second quarter

G — Shawn Pamplona pass from Jennings (kick failed) 1:37

Fourth quarter

K — Chris Jennings 7-yard pass from Jerome (kick failed) 6:33

G — Cayden Loveland 5-yard pass from Jennings (kick good) 2:54

K — Jerome 1-yard run (run failed) 2:13

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