Culver's Tri-River victory comes at cost
The host Bulldogs scored twice to go ahead, eventually beating Blanchet 28-20 in Friday's league game. The decision leaves both 2A-ranked teams at 1-1 in league play with three league games left.
Four teams are 1-1 with Santiam and Salem Academy joining the second-place tie. Scio leads the Tri-River at 2-0.
Culver rallied to set up the logjam. The hosts trailed Tri-River favorite Blanchet 7-6 at halftime despite the Bulldog defense not giving up a touchdown. The visiting Cavaliers' score came on an 85-yard kickoff return.
"Even though we were behind, the guys saw they could play with Blanchet," Culver coach Kurt Davis said. "We gave up just one big play in the first half."
So, the Bulldogs made plenty of big plays in the second half.
It started on an opening drive of six plays to cover 65 yards. Miguel Baltazar covered 34 of those yards with 19 on a screen pass to move the Bulldogs past midfield. He added 15 more on rushes, part of his 87 yards for the game.
Culver capped the drive with a 27-yard scoring strike on a fly pattern to super sophomore Nevin Lewis from Mike Williams.
A Culver defensive stop then set up the Bulldog offense at midfield. A 38-yard rumble by tackle Kyle Fisher moved the Bulldogs into scoring range.
"That really fires the whole line up to see one of our guys carrying the ball and gaining yards," junior guard Matt Zachary said.
Two plays later, Williams found senior tight end Gerald Speas open in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard scoring strike.
"I know when we're near the end zone I can get the ball to him (Speas)," Williams said.
It was one of Speas' six catches for 99 yards. Half came after an ankle injury to Lewis late in the third quarter (see story). That injury came on a short pass play just after Blanchet scored to tighten the game to 20-14.
Culver continued the drive thanks to a trio of big pass plays. Williams found Roberts for 15 yards on a screen pass and then Speas for two catches worth 42 yards.
The second of 34 yards went to the Cavalier 9. It came with Williams forced from the pocket.
"When I saw Mike scrambling I tried to run to an open area so he could find me," Speas said. "Once I was open, Mike threw it to me."
The big play didn't surprise the Culver coach.
"Gerald is the most improved player on this team," Davis said. "He finds ways to get open. Then has good hands and hangs onto the ball when he's hit."
Roberts scored two plays later, weaving through traffic from 9 yards out. A 28-14 lead with nine minutes left wasn't quite safe though.
Blanchet put together its longest sustained drive, using eight plays and five minutes to cover 68 yards. Nearly all of the Cavaliers' 56 passing yards came in that drive, 46 to set up a first-and-goal on the Bulldog 9. Blanchet scored, setting up a wild finish.
Culver thought it clinched the win with a 40-yard gain on a screen pass to Roberts. A holding penalty wiped out that play. Blanchet forced a punt, meaning Williams had to fill in for Lewis.
The Cavaliers came close to blocking the punt, instead brushing into Williams who fell down.
"I hadn't punted in a game since middle school," Williams said. "I took my time to make sure our outside guys could get downfield. After I got off the punt, the best I've ever had, one of their guys hit my leg. So I fell down to make sure the ref saw what happened."
A 5-yard running into the punter penalty allowed Culver to keep the ball.
An exchange of fumbles followed. Blanchet recovered the ball at its 40. Two plays later, Zachary's hit popped the ball into the air so Jeremy Thompson could recover it.
"I could see he was carrying the ball on his left side, so I tried to go right across him and hit the ball," Zachary said. "When I hit him, I knew it was a fumble."
And a win against the Tri-River favorites. Culver limited the Cavaliers to 155 total yards with 99 rushing.
"We made sure we stayed in our gaps," said Zachary of limiting Blanchet to less than 100 yards.
Notes: Williams passed for 181 yards, giving him the school record. He has 1,617 yards in seven games. The former record of 1,478 yards was set by James Macy in 1995.