JEROME — Before Friday night, the Twin Falls High School football team hadn’t played a close game all season. Either the Bruins had blown the opposition away, or they’d been blown away.
Facing rival Jerome on Friday, the Bruins finally experienced a tight contest. For more than 57 minutes, they were trailing. However, two minutes and 42 seconds with the lead was all they needed.
A 25-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Nick Swensen to senior Cy Mahlke clinched the comeback victory for the Bruins, who fended off the Tigers 22-21 to win the Great Basin Conference west pod.
“We needed a close game,” Twin Falls head coach Allyn Reynolds said. “This was good. In the back of my mind at the beginning of the game, I thought it’d be nice to have a close game, and I got what my mind was telling me. We needed this just to see how we’d respond. And we responded pretty well.”
The Bruins (6-2, 4-0) had to respond early. Jerome (3-5, 2-2) watched the opening kickoff sail out of bounds and started at its own 35. On the first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Dalan Thompson fired a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior Victor Santos, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Twin Falls managed to tie the contest after an interception of Thompson by sophomore Colton Rasmussen helped set up a seven-yard score by junior Jarod Perry with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
A 53-yard touchdown from Thompson to sophomore Shayler Bingham 11 seconds into the second quarter gave Jerome the lead back quickly. Twin Falls sophomore Caden Zierenberg knocked down a 28-yard field goal with six minutes left in the half, but Jerome got the last word in before the break.
With 27 seconds to go in the half, a 10-play, 66-yard drive ended as senior Dalton Raposo, helped by several of his Jerome teammates, bulldozed his way into the end zone, giving the Tigers a 21-10 advantage going into the locker room.
The Bruins needed something to change at the break.
“We told our kids, we’ve got to trust who we are and trust each other,” Reynolds said. “Stop pressing and do what we do best.”
Reynolds said the biggest thing was getting the ground game going. Perry ran for 137 yards on 25 carries in the first half, but Reynolds wanted more. Perry said communication was better in the second half as the offensive linemen pushed forward and opened up holes.
He finished with 214 yards on 44 carries and, with about 11 minutes to go, punched in a 10-yard score to bring the Bruins to within five points of the Tigers.
Then, mayhem unfolded.
Thompson hit Santos for about a 46-yard gain on Jerome’s next drive, but, as Santos was brought down, the ball came loose and Twin Falls recovered. The Bruins drove into Tiger territory, but Swensen was picked by sophomore JW James. Three plays later, Thompson was picked by senior Xander Barigar.
“I just feel bad for the kids because we played so hard and did so many things right,” Jerome head coach Sid Gambles said. “Turnovers are always big in big games.”
Gambles was right. Two plays after Barigar’s pick, Mahlke came down with the ball for the winning score.
Mahlke said he never imagined he would score that touchdown, but he noticed the defenders playing the slant route, so he knew he could come down with the deep ball. He told his coaches as much.
“I just wanted them to give me a shot and throw me a deep ball,” Mahlke said. “It worked.”
Thompson threw his third interception of the contest with one minute remaining, as Twin Falls senior Merick Lounsbury came down with the ball to ice the game for the Bruins.
Twin Falls cemented its place as the top team in the GBC west pod, while Jerome will likely come up short of a playoff berth.
Reynolds stressed the importance of the close game, not only as a learning experience for his team, but as a momentum builder for the Bruins’ coming stretch, which includes their regular season finale on Friday at home against Minico, followed by the 4A state playoffs.
Perry said the win proved who the Bruins are as a team, while Mahlke elaborated on how they won as a collective unit.
“It was super scary,” Mahlke said. “I knew we had it in us to pull through. Jerome came out firing the whole game and weren’t letting us have anything. Toward the end, we just came up and pulled together. We did what we had to do.”