North Marion nips Gladstone 26-20, closes in on outright Tri-Valley title
Facing second down and goal to go, North Marion quarterback Sergio Jimenez called for "wide pop" — a pass play that had Johnny Page's name written all over it.
Page caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jimenez for the go-ahead score with 2:01 to play, lifting the Huskies to a mud-splattered 26-20 Tri-Valley Conference home win Friday over the No. 2-ranked Gladstone Gladiators.
Brady Hansen, Tanner Saucedo, and Hunter Wierstra also found the end zone for the No. 6 Huskies, who withstood a three-touchdown night by Gladstone's Mason Scheehean to take over sole possession of first place.
The Huskies (5-2, 4-0 Tri-Valley) snapped a nine-game losing streak in their series with Gladstone (5-2, 3-1) and are now in a position to clinch the league title outright with a win in Friday's regular-season finale at The Dalles.
"This win means everything to us," Jimenez said. "We secured a league championship and I couldn't be happier for everybody on our team and everybody in our community. This is the biggest win of my life.
"We knew Gladstone was a good team, but we knew if we stayed together, we're a better team than them."
Gladstone had a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but North Marion rallied with an impressive passing attack in wet, rainy, and muddy conditions to score two touchdowns in the final eight minutes and spoil the Gladiators' bid for a third consecutive league title.
"A tough loss," Gladstone coach J.J. Jedrykowski said. "We played well enough defensively to win. Offensively, we had a few good plays, but not enough.
"North Marion won the game, but I think we beat ourselves more than they won the game. There were an awful lot of penalties, and right, wrong, or indifferent whether we really committed that many penalties, they were called. So, that was a big difference — we didn't play disciplined enough."
The Gladiators liked their chances after Scheehean scored on a 24-yard run for his third TD of the game to give the Gladiators a 20-14 lead with 10:32 to play in the fourth quarter. A bobbled snap threw off the kicker Mateo Burgos' timing on the extra-point try and he pushed it wide left.
Burgos then drove the ensuing kickoff into the end zone for a touchback, but the Gladiators were flagged for being offside (Exhibit A: Lack of discipline, special teams).
So, Burgos had to move back five yards and kick again. This time, North Marion's Saucedo returned the ball out to the 40, giving the Huskies significantly better field position than they would have had if the offside call hadn't been made and the touchback would have stood.
Five plays later, North Marion had a first down when Jimenez connected with Hansen on a 24-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Huskies even, 20-20, with 7:49 to play in the fourth quarter.
"It was just a flood pattern," said Hansen, the Huskies' senior wide receiver. "I ran a 10-yard out. It was open for most of the game and it was again. Sergio made a good pass and I caught it, broke a tackle, and made my way into the end zone. Not a lot to it."
Jimenez then had a chance to give North Marion the lead with the extra point, but Gladstone blocked the try and the score remained knotted at 20-20.
The Gladiators went three-and-out on its next possession, losing ground with a holding penalty, then throwing incomplete down the field on third and 16 for their own 28 before Burgos punted it away.
Hansen fielded the punt and brought the ball back across midfield, setting up the Huskies at the Gladstone 45 with 5:40 to play.
Jimenez then guided North Marion's offense on a nine-play scoring drive the game the Huskies the lead for good.
After the first four plays netted 24 yards and a Gladiators' offside penalty gave North Marion a second and six at the 16, Gladstone defensive back Ryan Lee broke up two passes intended for Hansen, setting up a fourth and six play.
North Marion then lined up in field goal formation, but the holder flipped the ball to Jimenez, who doubles as the Huskies' kicker, rolled to his right and threw an 8-yard pass to Joe Torian for a first down at the Gladstone 8.
On the next play, Jimenez ran for no gain, and then as the clock ticked inside three minutes it was time to run "wide pop" with Page lined up on the right side of the formation.
"My job on that play is to basically sit there, pretend like I'm going to block for about two seconds and then run out over the middle and get wide open," Page said.
Actually, the play didn't unfold quite that smoothly. Jimenez fumbled the snap, but still had time to pick the ball up, fake a handoff, turn and set his feet, find Page over the middle, and throw a strike for the go-ahead score.
"Johnny is a pretty big guy with good hands and he pulled it in and we scored," Jimenez said. "That last drive, we knew we had a chance to win the game, so I just told all my offense that if we just played our game and if our line blocked, I'd make something happen for us."
Jimenez again had his extra-point try blocked, but the damage was done.
Gladstone got the ball back one last time, but the drive ended with Meyer trying to throw a screen pass on fourth down that got intercepted by North Marion's Joe Ledesma with 1:14 to play.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," said Hansen, whose punt return helped set up the game-winning drive. "We came prepared for four long quarters. That's what we put in, and that's what we got out. So, that was good to see.
"It just feels great. We worked hard all week, we got prepared, and then we executed what we needed and it feels really good. I mean, we're going home feeling really good tonight."
The Gladiators had been in the habit of wearing down teams with their physical play up front, loosening up opposing defenses and creating running lanes for Sebastian Peiffer and Scheehean to do their thing.
But North Marion's defense was equal to the physical challenge, stacking the box with eight players, knowing that they were likely to see a steady diet of Peiffer and Scheehean.
"They're pretty damn good and physical up front," Jedrykowski said of the Huskies. "They did a nice job. That's an aggressive defense, it's a different defense, they run it well, and I think they've got a good thing going.
"I mean, we had a few successful blocks and we knew that we just wanted to get four yards at a time, and four yards, and four yards, and then we knew we'd break a couple. We just didn't break enough to win."
Scheehean put Gladstone on the scoreboard first when he found running room and scored on a 79-yard touchdown run with four minutes left in the first quarter.
North Marion answered with a seven-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that was aided by a Gladstone penalty for unnecessary roughness and ended with Saucedo scoring on a 36-yard run with 54 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Wierstra gave the Huskies a 14-7 lead when he picked off a screen pass intended for Scheehean and scored on a 10-yard interception return less than two minutes into the third quarter.
North Marion's defense came through with a goal-line stand on Gladstone's next possession, Page helping bring down Peiffer in the backfield on fourth and goal from inside the Huskies' 1 with 5:25 to play in the third quarter.
The Huskies ran three plays before punting the ball away to Scheehean, who returned the punt 55 yards for a touchdown that tied the score at 14-14 with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Another Scheehean TD made it 20-14, but it was almost all Huskies after that.
"We just stayed together," first-year Huskies coach Calvin Griggs said. "We knew we were going to face adversity, we knew what Gladstone was going to come with, and we knew if we just stayed within our game and did what we needed to do, we'd have the outcome that we wanted.
"Man, you know what, this brings tears to my eyes, because these kids have worked their butts off all spring, all summer. We've worked hard at it and what has happened this season has been very, very satisfying to see. And we have so much more to give, so much more that people have yet to see."
NORTH MARION 7 0 7 12 — 26
G — Mason Scheehean 79 run (Mateo Burgos kick)
NM — Tanner Saucedo 36 (Sergio Jimenez kick)
NM — Hunter Wierstra 10 interception return (Jimenez kick)
G — Scheehean 55 punt return (Burgos kick)
G — Scheehean 24 run (kick failed)
NM — Brady Hansen 24 pass from Jimenez (kick blocked)
NM — Johnny Page 8 pass from Jimenez (kick blocked)
By Jim Beseda
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