EAST WENATCHEE — It was about as heartbreaking a loss imaginable for the defending Big Nine champion Eastmont Wildcats.
The ’Cats were leading for most of the contest Friday against Davis in the newly-renovated Eastmont Stadium, but despite an incredible 71-yard touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, the speedy-yet-accurate Pirate quarterback was too much to contain as the Bucs took the thrilling 41-37 victory.
“We knew that it could be that way because we knew they had playmakers and obviously we have some playmakers,” Eastmont head coach Doug McGill said about the rollercoaster finish. “I just told the kids we ran out of time. There were a couple things that went our way in the first half that maybe didn’t in the second. But you can’t question our heart.”
Davis’ Nikhil Lizotte was extremely effective running and passing out of the read-option and he got the support from his skilled teammates when he needed them as the Pirates took the game that appeared would be won by the last time to have the ball.
“Lizotte is the real deal,” McGill said. “I didn’t know he could throw the ball with such touch. He really did throw the ball well, he ran the ball well, he kept us off balance. He took away our aggressiveness a little early after he made us miss and guys would stop and look and that slowed our rush down.
The junior had 82 yards rushing and 207 through the air without committing a turnover.
The Wildcats held onto a nine-point lead through more than half of the fourth quarter, when Lizotte connected with receiver Tyezaeh Walker from 28 yards out and then executed a perfect swingback play to seal the two-point conversion, which cut the Eastmont lead to just one.
Junior quarterback Killion McGinnis and the ’Cats offense took over at their own 20 after the kick off. But a pass skipped off of the hands of the receiver on first-down and into the arms of a Davis linebacker, giving the Pirates great field position, which Lizotte eventually took advantage of by connecting with Ketner Kupp from 25 yards out.
But the rollercoaster didn’t end there — not even close. After an option pitch netted nine yards, McGinnis threw a screen pass to senior captain Kai Spencer, who broke a few tackles and made several more miss to take it 71 yards for a score. The touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion gave the Wildcats a three-point lead with just a minute and seven seconds to play. But Spencer dove over the goal line, which — under Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association rules — merits a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was enforced on the kickoff.
“When he caught the ball, I don’t think anybody in the stands thought it was going to be a touchdown,” McGill said. “That’s a kid that just got wrapped up in the moment and that happens. We’ll talk to Kai about it, but am I disappointed in him? I’m not.”
After Spencer’s touchdown, McGill opted for a squib kick to keep the ball away from Santana Suiz, who was one missed tackle away from returning a kickoff for a touchdown the last time the ’Cats kicked it deep. That decision gave the Pirates field position on the Eastmont side of the field. The defense responded by forcing two incomplete passes and a monsterous Chandler Shaw sack on third down. But Lizotte connected with Kristian Sanders on a fourth-and-17 out-route to keep the drive alive. Two passes later, Davis was back in the end zone with only 16-seconds on the clock.
“People will question it and I understand that,” McGill said of kicking the ball short. “… I wanted to give our defense an opportunity to win the game, and you know what, their offense won the game. That’s all it came down to.”
The first-half was full of excitement as well with both sides making spectacular plays in the field.
Abi Espinoza set up a McGinnis score by making a sprawling catch at the one yard-line on Eastmont’s opening drive of the season. Senior Carter Haehl also proved that he is an all-around talent by scoring from 42 yards out. Spencer’s first touchdown came in the second quarter when he darted 33 yards to break the plane. McGinnis finished the contest with 286 yards through the air with Haehl and Spencer being the primary beneficiaries of those yards as they each had 105.
But the mistakes buried the ’Cats in the end as they made four turnovers to just one from the Pirates. Despite the missteps and the final result, McGill was extremely proud of the way his team played after the game.
“I think they showed a lot of heart and showed each other (what they can do) too,” the Easmont coach said. “Congratulations to Davis, I know they had a long year last year (when the team went 0-10) and their kids played hard and their kids made plays as well. Sometimes you just have to tip your hats.”
The Wildcats will travel to Pasco next week to play the Bulldogs in a non-league game.