MOSES LAKE — It never did turn into smash mouth football, but when Ephrata pushed, Toppenish didn't push back and that little bit of physicality was enough to set everything in motion in Saturday's Central Washington Athletic Conference game for third place at Lions Field in Moses Lake.
Bryndon Prescott capped a 17-play, 70-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run. Seth Elliott scooted 25 yards for the defensive touchdown on a scoop-and-score to make it a 35-point lead with 6:32 remaining and the Ephrata Tigers (5-4) secured the CWAC No. 3 seed with a 35-6 victory over the Wildcats (5-4).
“I thought we were able to control the line of scrimmage and keep Trenton (Kleyn) pretty clean. Their pass rush didn't pose a big threat for us at all,” Tigers coach Jay Mills said. “And, I thought we played really solid defense and turned it up a notch. We were more physical than they were and they didn't respond.”
Sophomore Tony O'Neel had an acrobatic pass interception coming across the middle where the 5-foot-10, 155-pound safety popped the ball up with his knee and had the presence of mind to gather it, to stymie one Toppenish second-half possession. Elliott's touchdown coming off the Wildcat fumble just put the icing on the cake for a team that's moving on to a GNL-CWAC crossover game where the winner will earn a berth in the 2A state tournament.
“I saw the pitch and I knew it was a fumble and my guys did a good job of hitting their guys around me. They made the play and I got the reward,” Elliott said of the Tigers final touchdown of the night. “(Coach) Mike Crowder coached us every day last year to scoop-and-score, scoop-and-score, and how to pick it up and run it.
“It's life and death right now. If we win, we're in. If we lose we're done and I think that's motivated us to play physical, It sure paid off tonight.”
O'Neel had the winning touchdown catch in the Kansas City tiebreaker game with Othello on Tuesday. On Saturday in Moses Lake, he dialed up his defensive game. The Tigers didn't give up a score until well after the game was in hand. Toppenish's Jesus Jimenez scored on a 3-yard run with 2 minutes remaining and the ‘Cats avoided the shutout. But it was all Tiger defense all night long.
“This was my first postseason and I had butterflies. But once I took that first hit, I settled in,” said O'Neel. “I thought the defense played great. It was great to get the pick and be able to chase it down and hang onto it after I hit it with my knee.
“I think we're ready to take that next step next week at West Valley, and I'm excited to get back after it.”
Ephrata took the early lead with a touchdown run by O'Neel and 45-yard Kleyn to Josh Benthem scoring pass. But where the Tigers put the smack down on was the opening drive of the second half when they methodically drove it down the field, converting on fourth-and-1 at the 26 and again on fourth-and-goal on the 7-yard line.
O'Neel's interception came just three plays after Prescott's touchdown run, pretty much sealing the deal.
The Tigers are scheduled to play GNL No. 1 seed West Valley (Spokane) in Spokane at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Toppenish 0 0 0 6 - 6
Ephrata 7 7 14 7 - 35
E - Tony O'Neel 3 run (Josh Benthem kick)
E - Benthem 45 pass from Trent Kleyn (Benthem kick)
E - Bryndon Prescott 3 run (Benthem kick)
E - Carter Cox 16 pass from Kleyn (Benthem kick)
E - Seth Elliott 25 fumble recovery (Benthem kick)
T - Jesus Jimenez 3 run (kick fails)