Blake Bithell catches two touchdown passes including the game-winner with 17 seconds left
Things were looking bleak for Sandy's football team Friday.
By the third quarter, the Pioneers were trailing Gresham 28-14 and had lost two players to ejections and another - senior fullback Pat Grandy - to injury.
It looked as though a young Sandy team had lost its composure.
The Pioneers exploded for 21 fourth-quarter points, including two touchdown receptions by junior receiver Blake Bithell. And senior Eugene Wright added a spectacular 53-yard punt return that was a major momentum-shifter.
'Blake is amazing,' Sandy coach Todd Quinsey said. 'All he does is score touchdowns. He's the Cris Carter of high school football.'
Bithell's 73-yard catch with five minutes left was caught off a deflection from Gopher defensive back Julian Kaufman, who Bithell outran as he weaved his way across the field for the score.
'Our quarterback (A.J. Schnell) is great in the clutch,' Bithell said.
Schnell entered the game as the Mount Hood Conference's leader in touchdown passes, and finished with three scoring strikes Friday night.
But Sandy got off to a slow start for the second consecutive week, trailing 21-0 at one point in the second quarter.
The Pioneers' first-half offensive numbers - 23 total yards, one pass completion, and three sacks allowed - did not inspire much confidence.
However, Sandy running back Joe Mafara returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score right before halftime, and that seemed to wake the young Pioneers from their slumber.
The Pioneers cut the gap to a single touchdown when Schnell found Chris Houle with a 42-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter.
Gresham seemed to regain control when Peter DeBois broke loose for a 21-yard scoring run that put the Gophers in front 28-14 going into the fourth quarter.
But Sandy made its charge with three TDs in the final eight minutes.
'We just need to improve in the first and second quarters on offense,' Bithell said.
If they do that, these upstart Pioneers could be downright scary.
Odds and ends: The officials were busy all night, ejecting two Sandy players and throwing flags that resulted in 140 yards of combined penalty yardage.
The referees also instructed Sandy to install protective padding on the field goal posts prior to game time.
Looking ahead: Sandy travels to Centennial on Friday Oct 6. The Eagles are coming off a road win at Hood River.