Sports Zone

Colts survive West Albany, rainstorm

SPRINGFIELD – You’ll hear a lot of coaches describe the playoffs as a “survive and advance” endeavor. In a game with sheets of rain throughout, that’s exactly what the Thurston Colts football team did. The Colts were tested for the full 48 minutes on Friday, but a late field goal block by Kodi Wardlaw allowed Thurston to escape against West Albany 13-12 and advance to the second round.

“It feels really good to move on,” said Justin Starck, Thurston head coach. “The kids showed a lot of grit and determination.”

Starck has coached Thurston since 2003, and said he’s never had a team play in conditions like those last Friday. Couple that with Thurston’s grass field, and it was a muddy, run-heavy game. West Albany rushed the ball 45 times, and the Colts ran 41 times.

“One-hundred percent because of the rain – 100%,” Starck said of the playcalling.

The game started well for the Colts, who, after a stop on West Albany’s first drive, immediately scored. The rain wasn’t falling as hard in the first quarter, and Thurston took advantage with a 59-yard pass from Noah Blair to Ethan Burkhead, and a Connor Nevin extra point gave the Colts an early 7-0 lead.

Neither team found much success for most of the first half until West Albany put together a nine-play, 57-yard scoring drive that running back Marcus Allen punched in from 3 yards out. The extra point was blocked by Wardlaw, and Thurston held the 7-6 lead into half. Starck said his message to the team at half was about grit.

“Our message was to keep grinding and stay low,” he said. “Just keep playing great defense, communicate and (we) really just talked about the penalties and mistakes and talked about not giving the game away. And we almost did.”

The Colts stormed out of the gates in the third quarter with a 40-yard run on the opening play by Darien Witham. Witham went down in the first half with an injury, but returned in the third quarter and finished the game with 69 yards rushing.

“Darien’s battling some things. But he’s one of the toughest kids on this football team. So, he found a way through,” Starck said.

Thurston made it inside the 5-yard line on two of its third-quarter drives, but failed to score either time. The Colts defense, dominant all year, came up clutch once again as senior Corren Hester forced and recovered a fumble at the West Albany 28-yard line. 

Four plays later Vaun Halstead took a sweep right on 4th-and-2, bulled over a West Albany defender, and scored from 20 yards out. Halstead has been used in the rushing attack occasionally this year, but Friday he was the featured back.

“Vaun’s made for this type of situation. He’s built for this,” Starck said.

The extra point try was no good after a bad snap, and Thurston led 13-6 with nine minutes left to play. West Albany answered immediately, putting together an 80-yard drive punctuated by a 10-yard touchdown pass from Lukas Hews to Camden Johnson.

The Bulldogs went for two, but a bad snap and a swarming Colts defense meant the try was no good and the Colts led 13-12. Thurston went backwards on its next drive however, and West Albany took over at the Thurston 36 with just over three minutes remaining.

The Bulldogs got one first down, but the drive stalled and they decided to attempt a 37-yard field goal with just over a minute left to take the lead, and pull off the upset. Wardlaw had other ideas though, as he leaped into the air and blocked the kick once again. Wardlaw’s two kick blocks saved four points being put on the board, and Starck said it’s a testament to everything great about Wardlaw.

“It means more than people know, because Kodi was a JV player last year, he didn’t really play a role on the varsity team. And a lot of kids would quit if they didn’t have a role on the team after their junior year, then you just move on and do something else,” he said. “Kodi stuck with it, and he’s turned into one of our best players. He got all-league awards and all that good stuff. So that just goes to show that you don’t want to quit, stay with it and good things will happen.”

The Colts got one first down on their final drive before kneeling twice, and the No. 4 team in 5A football escaped with a win. Thurston plays host to No. 12 Dallas next week, and the Colts will play at Cottage Grove High School to avoid another muddy game. The game plan for next week? Keep it simple.

“We just really need to get back to being a balanced offense, and playing great defense and not shoot ourselves in the foot,” Starck said.




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