SPRINGFIELD – There was lots of talk coming into the season that the annual crosstown rivalry football game between the Springfield Millers and Thurston Colts was going to go differently than the recent history of the game. Someone forgot to tell the Colts, who waltzed into Springfield’s Silke Field and won 34-13 after trailing 7-6 at halftime — winning their eighth straight in the rivalry matchup and keeping the golden football trophy at Thurston for another year.
“It’s just always special to win this game, and to keep that trophy in East Springfield. Just means a lot, so I’m happy for the kids and for our community,” Thurston coach Justin Starck said. “We figured they’d try to run the ball as much as they could, and we challenged our defense to step up and get some stops. And they did. And then Noah (Blair) and the receivers did a phenomenal job. Ethan Burkhead did a great job running too, scrambling around. Just a gutsy performance for all the kids.”
The defense showed their ability to get stops from the get-go. After Springfield ran a trick play for a 63-yard pass from Caeleb Kasperek to Jaevon Spencer, Thurston pushed back and forced a turnover-on-downs defending inside their own 10.
Neither team scored in the opening quarter, but Thurston opened the scoring early in the second on a 4-yard pass from Blair to Luke Newell on 4th down.
Springfield eventually answered back, though, scoring on an 11-yard pass from Kasperek to Isaiah Navarrete with 11 seconds left in the half, taking a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
“We just had to keep doing what we were doing. I mean, we just couldn’t stop rolling on offense,” Blair said of the halftime message. “Our offense was rolling, we just had to fix a couple of things in (the locker room).”
The offense rocked and rolled in the second half, scoring on an 11-play, 72-yard drive to open the third quarter. Blair, who finished the night with 5 total touchdowns, connected with Newell for the second time on a 12-yard pass, and the Colts took a 13-7 lead.
After a big kick return from Springfield’s Connor Dye, the Colts’ defense forced another turnover-on-downs, stopping Dye a half-yard short on 4th and 1 at the Thurston 13-yard line.
Dye came into the game averaging 161 yards rushing per game for Springfield and had 10 rushing touchdowns. The Thurston defense, which has struggled at times this season, held Dye to 90 yards rushing with no scores.
“Just heartwarming, you know. They’re young, and they’re inexperienced in a lot of areas, and just to see them struggle at times this season is painful,” Starck said of the defense. “But to see them succeed is that much sweeter. They’ve still got a long way to go, but they have so much heart and so much ability in there, so we’re excited for them.”
Thurston got the ball back with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter and scored three straight touchdowns. Blair accounted for all three scores, evading a defender and throwing a 40-yard touchdown to David Macdonald for the first score, running one in from 10 yards out, and connecting with Walker Bonar on a 16-yard pass after Thurston’s defense got an interception.
“(Noah)’s just a gamer. He’s just going to do whatever he can to get first downs and put us in a position to score. So that’s just who he is as a leader and as a competitor,” Starck said.
The pass to Bonar gave Thurston a 34-7 lead with 8:34 left in the game, and while Springfield scored one more time on an 85-yard run from Zack Sherman, the rivalry game was all but over.
The Colts moved to 3-2 with the win – all three wins in the Midwestern League – as they look to claim their sixth straight league crown. While another league title is great, the team is still focused on bigger goals.
“We have to continue to focus on improving if we want to be able to make a run in the playoffs. We played two teams that got after us pretty good early in the season,” Starck said. “If we’re gonna be ready to face someone like that in the playoffs, we have to continue to improve. We have improved a lot, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
Thurston top performers: Noah Blair, 23-29, 248 yards, 4 touchdowns, 68 rushing yards, 1 touchdown; Ethan Burkhead, 16 carries, 101 yards; Luke Newell, 5 catches, 44 yards, 2 touchdowns; Walker Bonar, 6 catches, 93 yards, 1 touchdown
Springfield top performers: Caeleb Kasperek, 4-7, 88 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 INT; Connor Dye, 17 carries, 90 yards; Zack Sherman, 6 rushes, 112 yards, 1 touchdown.