Kimberly High School football, a program that had never won a state title, was going against perennial 3A power and two-time defending champ Fruitland in the state quarterfinals. Surely, their chances seemed slim.
I’d already seen the Bulldogs play twice, once in a blowout win over Filer and the other time in their thrilling win against Gooding. I’d seen them at their flying best, and I’d seen them in the face of adversity. Both sides would show against Fruitland.
The first half was some electrifying football. Senior quarterback Braxton Hammond threw four touchdown passes through the two quarters, but it felt like Fruitland had an answer to every Kimberly score. The teams went into the break with a slight 24-21 Kimberly lead, and, while the Bulldogs led the whole way, there was never a sense that Fruitland was remotely out of it.
Late in the third quarter, with the score the same as it was at halftime, Kimberly junior McKade Huft ran in a five-yard score to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 31-21. At that point, Fruitland certainly wasn’t ready to pack up and leave, but there was a distinct sense that 10 points could have been too large a mountain to climb that late in the game.
Instead, Fruitland answered with a score, forced a punt and embarked on an 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to take its first lead of the game. In the driver’s seat all night, Kimberly suddenly had to play catch-up with just 6:16 on the clock. After the game, Kimberly head coach Rich Bishop said a lot of players might’ve hung their heads at that point, but not his.
Huft, Kimberly’s standout running back, decided to take matters into his own hands. He ran 11 times for 57 yards to get the Bulldogs to the one yard-line. With eight seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, there was time for one more run by the junior.
Hammond handed it to Huft, who went full-steam ahead at the Fruitland defense. He ran into a wall of bodies, and looked as though he may have just gotten the ball over the line. However, as players lay strewn on the ground and Huft stood in the backfield awaiting the verdict, the clock hit zero, a horn sounded, and nobody was quite sure what had happened.
Players from each team were pleading their cases as the referees deliberated. After the game, Hammond said he saw one ref point to the ground, which nearly made him realize his greatest fear. Senior receiver Tristyn O’Donnell said he basically didn’t remember any of that final play, at least until he saw it.
The referees raised their hands to signal a touchdown, and pandemonium ensued as players in red jerseys swarmed one another in celebration, and the orange and black winged helmets of the Fruitland players faced the ground as the Grizzlies bowed their heads.
Kimberly went on to lose to eventual 3A state champion Sugar-Salem the following week in the semifinals, but the Bulldogs will surely look back fondly on the walk-off win that saved their season for one more week.