Chewelah held an 18-7 lead over Deer Park during the first half of Friday night’s first football game of the season. The 11-point Cougar lead proved to be not enough. The visiting Stags stormed back in the second half to forge a 28-18 come from behind non-league win.
For the Cougars, it was a matter of not being able to put the finishing touches on the many good things they did on the field. They had 343 yards of offense, made some outstanding plays on both sides of the ball, and had their share of opportunities to win the game.
In the end, however, they came up short on the scoreboard. That is because Chewelah lost the ball three times as the Cougars were crossing the goal line. They fumbled away the ball into the endzone twice and dropped a pass at the goal line. The lack of those three touchdowns cost them the ballgame.
“We gave this one away,” said Coach Jim Fisk. “This was a game we should’ve won, but we lost the momentum in the second half and were unable to get it back.
“I’ve been telling the kids for the past three weeks that I’ve been concerned about their lack of concentration, but they didn’t believe. After fumbling the ball away twice at the goal line and dropping a pass going into the endzone, now maybe they’ll believe me.
“The same can be said about the kickoff we let drop behind us and the fake punt that we did not recognize and cover. It was all a lack of focus.”
Nonetheless, in all other aspects of the game, Chewelah played good enough to win. The Cougars did not give up when Deer Park received the opening kickoff and marched to the endzone for a quick 7-0 lead. Instead, they roared right back with three consecutive touchdowns of their own for an 18-7 lead.
After Deer Park scored the opening touchdown of the game, Chewelah came right back with a touchdown of its own. The Cougars put together a 13-play drive that ended up in the endzone. Quarterback Derek Smith kept the Stags guessing with a combination of keeping the ball himself, handing it off to fullback Cordell Bean, or throwing it to his receivers. Catches were made by Dustin Crowell, Ben Johnstone, and Bean.
Smith carried the ball across the goal line on a one-yard quarterback sneak, but the extra-point kick failed. So, with 3:05 remaining in the first period, the Cougars trailed by only a single point, 7-6.
A tipped Deer Park pass that was caught by Cougar lineman Dustin Olson gave Chewelah another golden opportunity to score. An 11-yard carry by Bean gave Chewelah a first down on the Deer Park 25 yard line. A 20-yard throw from Smith to Mason Miller gave the Cougars another first down on the one-yard line. However, with first down and goal to go, they fumbled the ball away on a run across the goal line.
Later in the game, Olson also had a fumble recovery.
Chewelah took the lead in the second quarter on an eight-play drive that traversed 80 yards. The ball-carrying of Smith and Bean got the Cougars to the Stag 15-yard line. Then, a pass to Johnstone put the ball into the endzone. Although the two-point conversion failed, Chewelah had a 12-7 lead with 6:06 left to play in the first half.
Johnstone’s blocked punt set up the third Chewelah touchdown of the game, giving the Cougars a first down on the Deer Park 20-yard line. On the next snap of the ball, Smith scrambled to his left and into the endzone. His second touchdown of the game widened the Cougar lead to 18-7 with 4:14 remaining in the second quarter.
Smith had engineered three Chewelah touchdowns. He had scored twice himself and had thrown to Johnstone for another Cougar touchdown. He finished the game with 18 carries for 120 yards. He also completed 10 of 20 passes for 148 yards.
“Oh yes, there were a lot of positives,” said Fisk. “We had Deer Park on the ropes in the first half, but we couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. They could not stop us offensively, and our young and inexperienced defense played really well. If we could have continued to play in the second half with the same enthusiasm that we had in the first half, the game could have had a much different ending.”
Chewelah did continue to move the ball after halftime, both on the ground and through the air. The problem was that the Cougars could not hold onto it, literally.
On their first possession of the second half, they marched into Deer Park territory and fumbled the ball away.
Later in the third period, Caleb Wiebe caught a pass from Derek Smith that covered 46 yards before he stepped out of bounds at the two-yard line. However, on the very next play, the Chewelah ballcarrier fumbled the ball into the endzone, where a Deer Park player recovered it.
This turned out to be the strangest series of the game for Chewelah. Wiebe caught Smith’s pass and outran Deer Park defenders to the corner of the endzone for what appeared to be a Cougar touchdown. Officials signaled the touchdown, announcer Kim Hogan broadcast it over the loudspeakers, and scoreclock operator Rocky Verbeck posted it on the scoreboard, 24-21.
When the ball was brought to the middle of the field near the goal line, everyone thought it was for the extra-point attempt following the touchdown.
When the perceived extra-point run attempt ended in a fumble, Verbeck said, “At least we got the touchdown.”
It was not until Deer Park’s offense came onto the field and took possession of the ball at the one-yard line that it finally became clear. Wiebe had stepped out of bounds before crossing the goal line. There had been no touchdown. The supposed extra-point conversion was, in fact, an attempt by the Cougars to get into the endzone. And, the fumble at the one-yard line turned the ball over to Deer Park. So, the scoreclock had to be changed back to 18-21.
To begin the fourth quarter, Chewelah had a 10-play drive going, but it got stalled inside the Stag 20-yard line. A fourth down pass hit the Cougar receiver right in the hands as he crossed the goal line, and he dropped the ball.
Then, in the final four minutes of the game, Chewelah threw two pass interceptions. So, four Cougar possessions of the second half ended with turnovers rather than touchdowns. The other two possessions ended in a punt and a turnover on downs. As it turned out, every Cougar possession of the second half had a bad ending.
During that same time, Deer Park scored twice to take the lead, 28-18, and that is the way the game ended.
Smith led Cougar ballcarriers with 18 carries for 120 yards. Bean carried the ball seven times for 58 yards.
Smith threw the ball 20 times and completed 10 passes for 148 yards. His longest was the 46-yard toss to Wiebe. Johnstone had three catches for 40 yards. Miller had three receptions for 44 yards.
This Friday night, the Cougars travel north to play Colville. The Indians were a 20-18 winner over Freeman in their opening game of the season last week when they stuffed a two-point conversion attempt by the Scotties with 37 seconds remaining in the game. Game time at Colville is 7 p.m.
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Derek Smith #2 senior quarterback carries the ball on a quarterback sneak through a hole forged in the Deer Park defense by Cougar teammates for one of his two touchdown runs of the night! Kim Johnstone photo