PROSSER — The first round of the Class 2A Gridiron Classic matchup between the No. 10 Eatonville Cruisers and No. 7 Prosser Mustangs proved to be a game where the strength of a team’s character was immediately challenged and how their reaction reaffirmed the importance of staying together during Saturday’s game at Art Fiker Stadium.

The Cruisers flexed their growling muscle for playoff football, which ignited the Mustangs rally from a 16-7 deficit with 6:56 left in the second quarter, to scoring 34 unanswered points before winning 41-23.

Prosser advances to the quarterfinal game against No. 2 Steilacoom Sentinels on Friday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. (Location TBD)

“We knew early on that we were going to have to match their physicality. And, they kind of surprised us at the beginning of the game. Long term, you kind of hope to adjust to it and I think we did a better job as it moved forward,” coach Cory Ingvalson conveyed.

Prosser (8-2 overall) began the game on defense with Eatonville (6-5) pounding the ball on the ground from their own 30-yard line and gaining 32 yards. The 4-minute drive stalled at the Mustangs’ 42 due in part from a delay of game penalty and third down incomplete pass. Staring at fourth and 15 yards for a first down, the Cruisers punted and downed the ball at the six.

The Mustangs’ offense opened with senior running back Logan Candanoza gaining 5 yards on first down. Senior wide receiver Will Thompson caught a 5-yard out pass on the sideline from sophomore quarterback Kaiden Rivera for a first down at their 16-yard line.

Three plays and seven yards later, the Mustangs decided to punt the ball from their own 23. On the fourth down snap, the ball went over senior punter Anthony Cromwell's head, who made an alert play in recovering the ball in the end zone. Eatonville’s defense recorded only a safety and halfway through the first quarter led 2-0.

Prosser’s swarming defense dug in as they prevented the Cruisers, starting at their own 43, from capitalizing on their good field position. The offense was unable to pick up a first down and Eatonville was forced to punt.

Their offense took over at their 25-yard line with 4:44 left in the quarter and went on a 70-yard drive which resulted in a missed 28-yard field goal attempt.

As both defenses and special teams play dominated the first quarter action, offensive execution and a combined 34-point outburst would set the fast-paced tone for the second quarter.

Junior wide receiver Jake Jensen hauled in an 11-yard pass from Rivera as he lowered his shoulder and into the defensive back at the goal line for the Mustangs’ first score with 8:46 remaining before halftime. After the partially blocked extra point was good, Prosser led 7-2.

“It felt good. We knew that we had to make plays to get going and I did my best,” Jensen expressed as he ran through the defender on his way into the end zone. “. . . I had to give it my all.”

Thirty-nine seconds later, Eatonville junior quarterback Caden Jumper found tight senior tight end Trevor Schier on a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown. The point after touchdown was good and the Cruisers were back in front 9-7.

On the next series, Eatonville’s defense intercepted Rivera’s pass at their own 48-yard line. Jumper hit senior wide receiver Zach Smith for a 52-yard touchdown strike. The extra point was good and in about a minute’s time, the Cruisers sped out to a 16-7 lead with 6:56 remaining the first half.

The Mustangs finished off their 2:05, 68-yard drive as Rivera connected with Thompson for a 15-yard touchdown reception. The kick was blocked, and Prosser trailed 16-13.

Once again, Prosser’s defense would answer the bell. The Cruisers were denied a first down on a fourth and four at the Mustang 29-yard line, turning the ball over on downs with 1:59 before intermission.

Feeding off the momentum created by their aggressive play on both sides of the ball, Candanoza received the hand off from Rivera on first down, who followed his blockers to the right and ran through a couple of arm tackles in the secondary as he galloped 71-yards in 13-seconds for the touchdown.

“It’s just a great feeling. Crossing that goal line is a relief and like happiness and joy all at the same time. And, celebrating with my teammates is an awesome feeling,” declared Candanoza who rushed for two second half scoring runs of 30 and eight yards.

The PAT split the uprights and the Mustangs went out in front for good and led 20-16 at halftime.

“We were down at the beginning and our response over the past couple of weeks in some tough situations has been great. They have kind of carried over into this afternoon. So, I’m really proud of our effort,” Ingvalson stated.

Patrick Shelby can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 110 or email PShelby@SunnysideSun.com

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