Peering at the possibility of a second-half collapse and defeat, Montesano picked itself up off the turf and summoned the energy forged from past championship contests and character-building triumphs.
The Bulldogs led 24-7 midway through the third quarter and then shot themselves in the foot with turnovers to give Rochester the opening to take the lead.
On its last significant drive of the game, Montesano shut the door on the Warriors for a potentially season-defining 32-31 victory at Stewart Field in Aberdeen on Thursday night.
Senior running back Jacob Sampair scored four touchdowns and produced the game-winning 2-point conversion run with 4:01 left in the contest. The Bulldogs withstood two final Warrior drives, with one ending on downs and another on a Kylar Prante interception.
“We battled; it is a great win for us,” Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said. “I’ve never seen our league this wide open — no one is really dominating it. There isn’t a state-ranked team. We are all battling. We’re all about equal, trying to find out who we are and what we’re all about. Tonight, we found out a lot about ourselves. (Rochester)’s effort was tremendous. They were down 17-0 at one point and to watch those kids battle back, it was impressive. They didn’t quit, didn’t give up. Fortunately for us, they ran out of time at the end.”
The Warriors (3-1, 4-2) walked onto the FieldTurf as the league leaders, undefeated in three league games. The Bulldogs (2-1, 3-3), the reigning state 1A champions, were shaking off a rare road loss to Forks.
After quarterback Noah Ewing hit Sampair (107 yards on 19 carries and two catches for 25 yards) on a 6-yard seam route for a touchdown and Anthony Louthan (17 carries, 90 yards) converted the extra-point kick, it appeared that Monte’s 24-7 lead would stand up. Rochester had just one substantial drive in the first half, on which it scored its first touchdown on, and went 3-and-out to start the second half.
Senior quarterback Tyler Gedney (14-for-23, 154 yards) took over the ensuing Warrior drive, hitting 3-of-4 passes for 52 yards, including a 16-yard rollout touchdown pass to Wyatt Singer for a 24-13 score. The extra-point kick went wide with 4:37 left in the third.
Following the score, Rochester saw an opening that was created by three consecutive Montesano miscues. The Warriors charged through it for their first lead of the game.
“We were a little bit scared, but we had a lot of guys — a lot of younger guys — step up big; that is what helped us,” Sampair said. “We’ve had a lot of close games (in the past), a lot of games in doubt in the fourth quarter. We know what we have to do to pull them out.”
Louthan, the team’s kicker and punter, tried a fake punt at the Bulldog 36-yard line, but was tackled for a 7-yard loss when the Warriors cut off his route. Four plays later, Gedney’s rollout to his left produced a 1-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion pass failed after a holding penalty wiped out the first attempt at 24-19.
Behind big runs from Sampair and Louthan, Montesano got to the Rochester 9-yard line. However, Louthan, who was at quarterback in the team’s Wild-Dog formation, lost the snap. The Warriors’ Angel Vazquez ran the fumble back 74 yards to set up his team’s next scoring drive. On the fumble, Louthan injured his right ankle and never returned to the game.
Four plays after the fumble and recovery run, Gedney found Wyatt Singer for a quick 20-yard touchdown pass. The 2-point conversion pass failed, but Rochester erased the deficit for a 25-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
A second-straight fumble, this time from Ewing, allowed Rochester to milk the clock and score its final touchdown — a 20-yard halfback pass from Tyler Yarber to Bobby Brien — for a 31-24 lead with 6:48 remaining.
“There was frustration, but we told these guys they needed to play from the inside-out — play with their heart and their brain, with desire and passion,” Jensen said. “That was what happened in the fourth quarter. They didn’t give up. It was an awesome effort by these kids.”
An 8-play, 60-yard drive by Monte was the answer it needed. Ewing hit Prante — who came in for Louthan — for a 20-yard strike to extend the drive, while Sampair rushed inside before he broke loose for a 13-yard scoring run.
Down by one, Montesano called timeout. In their Wild-Dog formation, the Bulldogs got the ball to Sampair, who ran right and hurdled a Rochester defender to score the 2-point conversion.
“Jacob has the heart of a lion right now,” Jensen said. “He’s not giving up, not giving an inch. He’s our best blocking back and right now, he’s our best running back. He had a great effort tonight.”
Rochester would get two attempts at a game-winning score. On its first try, the drive stalled at its 18-yard line on downs. Monte ran down the clock and lost the ball on downs at the 15,
On the second and final attempt, Gedney converted two passes to extend the drive before Prante intercepted a midfield pass with one second remaining in the game.
“That game turned our whole season around; it was the biggest game we’ve had,” Sampair added. “We knew (Rochester) would be good. We wanted them and we got them.”
Montesano dominated play in the first half and rolled out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Mixing up their formations — with Ewing behind center and Louthan running the Wild-Dog — the Bulldogs got a 4-yard touchdown run by Sampair on their first drive of the game.
Louthan kicked a 23-yard field goal on Monte’s second drive. Sampair hauled in a 19-yard seam route pass from Ewing for a touchdown on the third drive to produce a 17-0 score early in the second quarter.
Rochester finally got Montesano to punt on its fourth drive, then ran off a 15-play, 79-yard drive that became its only significant possession of the half. Gedney got his first touchdown of the game when he found Eastman for a 4-yard scoring pass and a 21-7 score just before halftime.
On Oct. 18, Montesano will host Homecoming at Stewart Field against Tenino.
Rochester 0 7 12 12 — 31 Montesano 10 7 7 8 — 32
First Downs 13 18
Rushing Yards 74 251
Passing Yards 174 127
Total Net Yards 258 378
Passing 15-24 8-12
Had Intercepted 1 0
Fumbles Lost 0 2
Penalty Yards 60 67