Playing through the pain of a sore shoulder, Veek Cheema delivered the pass that gave Aberdeen its first victory.
Cheema connected with Austin Floch on a 34-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter and the Bobcats turned back a late Centralia threat for a 28-21 win in a non-league football game Friday night at Stewart Field.
Aberdeen senior Bryceson Talley rushed for 140 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the first half. Filipo Cournoyer, who had reportedly undergone root canal surgery earlier in the day, scored twice for the Bobcats (1-2).
And the Bobcat defense, on the field for all but 11 scrimmage plays in the second half, survived a 263-yard passing assault from Centralia quarterback Joe Blaser and a Tiger drive that reached the Bobcat 4-yard line in the final minute.
“Every game this year we’ve played better and this was by far the best,” said Terry Dion, celebrating his first victory as Aberdeen’s head coach. “It gives us something to build on.”
Down 21-20 after three quarters, the Cats cashed in on the first of two huge breaks in the final period to score the deciding touchdown.
Chasing down a high snap in the opening minute of the quarter, Centralia punter Bo Ramirez got off a hasty kick that sailed out of bounds on the Tiger 34-yard line.
The Bobcats needed only one play to capitalize. Cheema rolled to the right and found Floch on a crossing route over the middle. The sophomore wingback cut to the right side and burst into the end zone with 10:52 remaining. Talley ran in the conversion for a 28-21 lead.
It was only Cheema’s second completion of the night, but the junior quarterback had run effectively in the first half and delivered an emotional pre-game sideline talk to his teammates.
“Veek Cheema played an outstanding game, with his legs, his arm and his leadership,” Dion said.
After halting Centralia’s next possession, the Bobcats promptly fumbled the ball away with about five minutes left.
Blaser twice converted fourth-down passes and Drew Baldwin motored 17 yards on a draw to give Centralia first down on the Aberdeen 9-yard line. Two running plays netted five yards before a block-in-the-back penalty sent the Tigers back to the 14.
The Bobcats caught a huge break on third down when an almost certain TD pass was dropped at the goal line. Blaser’s fourth-down pass to John Sharkey in the end zone fell incomplete with 14 seconds left.
Cheema took a knee on the final play.
After Ramirez opened the scoring with a 24-yard field goal, Cournoyer capped a 62-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:51 remaining in the first quarter. Sam Ruiz’s conversion kick hooked wide.
Centralia regained the lead on Blaser’s 24-yard TD pass to Baylor Scott with 8:35 remaining in the second quarter. Ramirez’s PAT kick was blocked.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Talley broke off the right side, broke tackles at about midfield and the Tiger 25 and took it to the house. A pass on a fake conversion kick misfired.
The Bobcats increased the lead to 20-9 on Cournoyer’s 11-yard scoring run with 2:48 left in the half.
Blaser, however, drove the Tigers 75 yards in less than two minutes, with Baldwin circling left end on a 6-yard run. The Tigers then took the lead on Baldwin’s 12-yard scoring run at the end of a 93-yard drive on the opening drive of the second half.
Dion cited Jaime Miranda and Kaleb Levao for playing through injuries.
The Bobcats travel to Black Hills on Friday.