Out there on the edge of Friday Night is our man Mike Noftle. Always ready to bring us the inside scoop he hunts down the stories and gets to the really good stuff. The stories that lie within the story. And the battle for 1A player Of The Year is on now big time.
Cashmere vs. Connell — An Early Assessment of the Landscape of Washington 1A Football
Expectation. Heading in to week three of the 2011 season, both the Cashmere Bulldogs and Connell Eagles had clearly begun to separate themselves from the pack. Neither squad had shied away from challenging pre-league contests, and both were coming in undefeated after notching impressive wins in the first two weeks of the season.
#1 ranked Connell ground out a victory over the perennial 2A contender Othello Huskies in week one and overpowered the Chelan Goats in week two.
#3 ranked Cashmere’s resume includes a quality win over a talented Royal Knights team and comfortable defeat of the up-and-coming Cle Elum Warriors that is loaded with junior talent.
Anticipation. Predicting the outcome of this one would not be an easy task. They share many similarities on both sides of the ball. Defensively, both team graduated both of their defensive ends last season. In both cases those defensive ends were some of the best athletes on the field and were significant contributors to last season’s success.
Offensively, both squads return the bulk of their offensive lines from a year ago, both are guided by very athletic and versatile quarterbacks, and both rely heavily on a premiere running back to carry the load.
For the Eagles of Connell, that running back is senior and two-time 1A Washington state player of the year Matt Hadley. No surprises there; you know what you are going to get from him. The Brigham Young University commit can dominate a game with his strength, vision, and exceptional balance; qualities that have gotten him within ten touchdowns of surpassing former Prosser receiver; and current Boise State Bronco, Kirby Moore for the all-time Washington state record.
Cashmere’s answer at running back is a slightly lesser-known enigma. Running back Mahliek “Mo” Roberts spent his freshman season with the Bulldogs, but relocated to Olympia as a sophomore.
He has returned to Cashmere for his junior campaign and optimism in the program is soaring. While he may not run with the same power as Hadley, he runs behind his pads as well as any back I have seen this year and his burst once he sees an opening is startling.
Pregame prognosticators had their work cut out for them in predicting this one. Could either back be stopped? And which one would lift his team to victory? Would a lesser-known star shine brightly if either defense were able to force adjustments to the expected offensive game plans? How would the defenses hold up to the offensive firepower?
Execution. After a brief feeling-out process, Cashmere drew first blood with a 70-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Casey Ruether to senior Joey Michael. The Bulldogs don’t pass often in their option offense, but when they do they often catch the defensive backs by surprise. Defensively, Cashmere’s objective was to limit Hadley from any big plays and put some pressure on Eagle senior quarterback Chandler Salisbury. While I wouldn’t exactly say that they controlled Hadley, they did keep him out of the end zone in the first half and forced Salisbury to play under duress on many pass attempts.
Ultimately, Salisbury was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, finishing the night with 9 completions on 23 attempts.
In the 2nd quarter Cashmere seized the momentum as Roberts finished two drives with short rushing touchdowns to jump out to a 21-0 lead. They held that lead until the last play of the first half, when Salisbury connected with senior receiver Kade Eppich from eight yards out.
|Dirk Knudsen; Washingtonpreps.com|
|Mo Roberts is a powerhouse back with an amazing quick burst who is having a stellar season thus far|
In the 3rd quarter Roberts punched in another short touchdown run to stretch the lead back out to 3 touchdowns.
In the 4th Hadley finally got on the board for the Eagles from 4 yards out to draw it back to a 2-score margin.
Shortly afterwards, the Eagles backs were broken when Roberts found an opening in the middle then used his burst to draw away from the pursuit of Matt Hadley for a 74-yard touchdown romp.
It wasn’t until that moment that the game felt like it was decided. For good measure, the Bulldogs tacked on two more in the fourth to finish with a 47-14 win.
Roberts finished with 193 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns on 26 attempts. Hadley wasn’t far behind with 174 yards on 25 attempts, but only found pay dirt once for the Eagles.
Assessment. We learned a few key things from this game. First, I think Cashmere is the team to beat in the 1A ranks this year. I admittedly haven’t seen all of the west-side contenders in action yet, so I’m not handing anyone the trophy just yet, but Cashmere seems to have all of the pieces in place with plenty of time between now and playoff time to fine-tune their attack. In my mind they are clearly the undefeated team that has played the toughest schedule along the way.
I also learned that Connell is definitely still a viable contender. I’ve reviewed this game film enough to know. They have until week 8 against Royal to rebuild their momentum. They know how to win and cannot be counted out. I think what caught them by surprise a little bit on Friday is that they may have underestimated the amount of talent that they graduated last year.
The question that will be fun to debate is this: Who will be the 1A player of the year? Hadley will set some records this season that will be hard to match for a good while. This season to date he has rushed for 416 yards and scored 5 touchdowns in 3 games. In comparison, Roberts has set the early mark with 11 touchdowns and 457 rushing yards over the same number of contests. As much as I respect the abilities of Hadley, my early vote goes to Roberts.
Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves.