CASHMERE — The Bulldogs' Jack Croci must have had a double bowl of Wheaties before he went to school Friday morning because he absolutely killed Granite Falls in a 48-12 drubbing at Cashmere High School.
Croci scored all five of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns in the first half — four of them coming in the first quarter. But it wasn’t just his route running or pass-catching ability on display. Croce also rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on an end-around, he returned a punt to the house and also ran back a kickoff.
The kid was a walking touchdown.
“He’s a special player,” Cashmere head coach Bryan Bremer said after the win. “The kid does everything right all the time but also, credit to this teammates. Trenton Mason threw a great ball on a fade route in the second quarter, the kickoff was untouched and the punt return was untouched. His teammates were setting him up, but he’s definitely going to take us far.”
Nothing against Nate Phillips, who was a solid receiver in his own right, but Cashmere has not had an offensive weapon like Croci since Mason Landdeck a few years back. Landdeck was a wizard with his route running and possessed a great pair of hands. So does Croci.
On Cashmere’s first drive of the game, Croci took a simple screen pass 48 yards deep into Granite Falls territory. He scored three plays later on a 5-yard slant over the middle. Then, after the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick — which they opened the game with as well, but kicked it out of bounds — Croci reeled in a 40-yard deep ball down the sideline, which set up his 3-yard rushing TD.
A minute later, after the Bulldogs defense had forced a three-and-out, Croci fielded a short punt and scampered 30-yards down the Tigers’ sideline for his third TD of the quarter.
Just like that, it was 21-0.
Granite Falls was able to put together a solid drive in response and scored on a 36-yard TD pass from Riley Hoople to Keldyn Smith. But Croci answered on the ensuing kickoff, taking a reverse 90-yards to the end zone to put Cashmere back ahead by three scores.
That was just the first quarter.
Croci scored his fifth TD of the game midway through the second quarter, high pointing a ball on a fade route. There was nothing the Tigers could do to contain the 5-foot 11-inch junior. Croci finished with six catches for 143 yards and five total TDs. He had a whale of a game.
When asked about the aggressive start with two onside kicks, Bremer said it’s something they feel comfortable doing at any moment.
“It’s just our system,” he said. “We don’t have to call it in the huddle, it’s there for whenever we want. We have a terrific kicker that can put the ball wherever he wants to. And it’s pretty dangerous with those attempts because even if we don’t recover it forces those returners to move up and we can (then) kick it over their heads. That whole unit was great for us tonight.”
Friday’s win was just what Cashmere needed following a pair of shaky starts in their last two games against Goldendale and La Salle. But no second-half comeback was needed tonight. Not even close. The defense played lights out, for the most part, and freshman cornerback Aidan Theiss made a phenomenal play on Granite Falls’ first possession, blanketing his man before turning at the right time to reel in the interception.
“Everyone will pick on him because he’s only 5-foot 6-inches and weighs about 135 pounds, but he’s a player,” Bremer said. “He is the man. We wouldn’t put him out there if we didn’t believe and my gosh can he play. We’re excited to have him for a few more years.”
Cashmere (3-0) is sitting pretty three weeks into the season. But next week against Okanogan is a big one. It’s been a few years since the Cashmere has won.
“That’s a huge game for us against a really good team that’s well-coached,” Bremer said. “I can’t wait. Go Dawgs!”