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Hoisting the Bridge of Sportsmanship trophy, Eastmont's football team celebrates their win over Wenatchee Thursday night, Nov. 7, 2019, at Eastmont. 

EAST WENATCHEE — What a ballgame.

The Eastmont Wildcats defended their Big 9 crown and became the first team in school history to beat the rival Wenatchee Panthers three-straight years after winning 28-24 Thursday night at Eastmont High School.

“That one feels really good,” Eastmont head coach Mike Don said postgame. “These games come down to the wire every year and since I’ve been here there hasn’t been a game separated by more than five points either direction. It played out how everyone thought it would, just a slugfest between two good teams, but it’s great for our kids. They have come a long way and I’m really proud of them.”

The win creates a three-way tie with Eastmont, Wenatchee and Sunnyside all sitting at (5-1) atop the division but all three teams will have a quick turnaround with the tiebreaker scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Moses Lake — the lone neutral site. Eastmont will play Sunnyside first for two 10-minute halves with the winner earning the No. 1 seed out of the Big 9. The loser gets Wenatchee for two 10-minute halves to determine the No. 2 seed.

So even though this is a pretty crushing loss to Wenatchee, they still have a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday and get a berth to state.

“That’s what I told the guys,” Wenatchee head coach Scott Devereaux said after the loss. “We get a second chance. Often, the season would be over right now (but) we have a second chance on Saturday. We have to win one 20-minute football game and if we win, we’re in.”

Neither Wenatchee or Eastmont gave an inch through the first half.

Austin Popoff ripped off two big runs to get the Wildcats going on the first drive of the game and set Eastmont up in the red zone. Sophomore Corbin Keys punched in the TD a couple plays later on a 6-yard run.

But the Panthers, and running back Nathan Blauman — who finished with 146 yards on 23 carries — answered back with a long drive of their own, capped off by a 10-yard pass from Camden Sirmon to Riley Kunz.

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Wenatchee's Sebastian Esquivel looks for running room under a swarm of Eastmont defenders in their football game Thursday night, Nov. 7, 2019.

Wenatchee then forced an Eastmont punt on the next drive before Sirmon orchestrated a 13-play, 98-yard surgical drive down the field that ended with a 3-yard TD pass to Obadiah Young. A missed extra-point left the Panthers with just a six-point lead.

The Wildcats responded on the ensuing possession and shaved five minutes off the clock before QB Carson Everhart scored on a 1-yard keeper up the middle to put Eastmont back in front.

There was just a minute left on the clock after the Everhart score, but Sebastian Esquivel had a nice return that put the Panthers in Wildcat territory. And that was all Sirmon needed to get Wenatchee in the range of kicker Cesar Gonzalez, who drilled the 39-yard field goal to give the Panthers the lead at half.

Wenatchee came out of the break and continued to feed Blauman, riding him all the way down to the goal line on the opening drive, but — in what would turn out to be a pivotal moment — the Eastmont defense held firm and made goalline stand to force a turnover on downs. Eastmont then marched down the field and scored on a 10-yard run by Carson Tally.

The Panthers retook the lead with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter as Blauman bulldozed his way 18-yards and through three Eastmont defenders en route to the endzone. Wenatchee then converted the 2-point try to take a three-point lead, but it was all erased by a spectacular pitch and catch by Everhart to senior Wesley McIlwaine.

Staring at 4th-and-10 with a little more than three minutes left and two timeouts, Don burned one to talk things over with Everhart.

“We talked about running a boot(leg) under center but decided to go out of the gun in the huddle,” Don said. “We were going to run a comeback underneath with a corner over the top and Everhart made the biggest throw of his career right to Wesley, who made the play.”

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Next to the goal line, Eastmont's Wesley Mcllwaine hauls in the game winning catch over Wenatchee's Jalen Jelsing in the fourth quarter of their football game Thursday night, Nov. 7, 2019, at Eastmont.

“We knew it was coming,” Deveraux said. “We told our guys it’s either a wheel or corner route but we didn’t make the play.”

The Panthers still had time, and really the whole game it felt like whoever had the ball last would win. Wenatchee got down the field no problem, with Sirmon connecting with JJ Jelsing over the middle several times. But Sirmon made his lone mistake of the night, tossing a game-ending pick to senior Jeremy Gregerson.