YAKIMA, Wash. — Every time it looked like East Valley might score Friday night, Ellensburg’s defense snuffed out those hopes with a flourish.
The Bulldogs forced six turnovers to consistently turn back the Red Devils, preserving a 30-0 shutout in the CWAC North matchup. Despite his team’s comfortable lead, junior defensive lineman Tate Morris said the stakes remained high on East Valley’s 16-play fourth quarter drive.
“Honestly, Saturday mornings we get donut holes if we get a shutout,” Morris said. “So that’s the real thing that was pushing us forward to stop them.”
One play after a questionable roughing the passer penalty gave East Valley first and goal, Morris broke through the line almost immediately. He swallowed quarterback Aiden Estill for an 11-yard loss, perhaps the most crucial of the Bulldogs’ seven sacks.
Three plays later Riley Seed caught Ellensburg’s fourth interception in the end zone, then wisely obeyed when multiple teammates told him to take a knee. Dion Hardeman, Preston Oldham and Logan Mallick all had interceptions for the Bulldogs, with all but one coming inside their own 30 yard line.
Morris, who also plays offensive line, said the secondary’s speed also helps take some pressure off the defensive line, which stuffed East Valley’s running back for much of the game. But when Tyler Stone broke through for first-half runs of 41 and 45 yards, Ellensburg defensive backs managed to track him down.
“I think we did a better job than last week of just seeing things better,” coach Randy Affholter said of the secondary. “I think they felt more confident in who they were. Anytime you have a little speed does help.”
He praised their response to adversity in the second half after Dion Hardeman left the game with a wrist injury. The Red Devils converted three fourth downs on their second drive, and only the first one came in conventional fashion when Eddie Juarez ran for nine yards out of the Wildcat formation.
Another came thanks to a blatant pass interference penalty, but it looked Ellensburg would stop Estill short when he ran for the marker on fourth and eight. Instead, two yards shy of the first down, he fumbled the ball up into the air where three different Bulldogs nearly caught it before it went out of bounds just far enough downfield to keep the drive alive.
East Valley got all the way down to the 11 yard line before a sack and an interception brought an abrupt end to a golden scoring opportunity. The second time the Bulldogs defense stopped a long second-half drive with an interception, running back Brendan Swanson carried the momentum 80 yards for a touchdown.
But Ellensburg never needed to go that far in a pivotal second quarter thanks to two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a turnover on downs. The offense led by quarterbacks Brady Helgeson and Ryan Ferguson scored 21 points, both of whom Affholter wants to see contribute going forward.
“I think Brady has great vision, great feel when he wants to take off and run,” Affholter said. “I think Ryan gives us some things of just being bigger, seeing downfield and pushing the ball a little bit.”
An injury kept Ferguson off the field last week, when Ellensburg picked up its first win by knocking off Ephrata 47-20. The Bulldogs faced plenty of challenges through their first three games, including one against Zillah postponed just before halftime, but Affholter said they never stopped playing hard, physical football.
He expects the quarterbacks to play every other series next week, when Prosser visits Ellensburg. Although it’s a nonleague game and Affholter said the following week’s matchup with Othello may actually be important for the postseason, his players understand the significance of facing the Mustangs.
“I’m thinking Prosser’s going to be the champion in the south and we keep battling and getting better, I think we’re going to be the champion in the south,” Morris said. “So next week’s going to be huge to really buckle down and really hit heads with them.”
Ellensburg 3 21 0 6 — 30
East Valley 0 0 0 0 — 0
Ell — FG Elijah Harper 27
Ell — Henry Rinehart 15 pass from Brady Helgeson (Harper kick
Ell — Dion Hardeman 2 run (Harper kick)
Ell — Helgeson 1 run (Harper kick)
Ell — Brenden Swanson 80 run (kick failed)
RUSHING — Ellensburg, Brenden Swanson 17-156, Dion Hardeman 13-72, Brady Helgeson 2-(-1), TEAM 1-(-3). East Valley, Tyler Stone 13-101, Derek North 11-53, Efrain Guerrero 4-16, Eddie Juarez 3-14, Ray Micah 3-5, Trent Smith 1-1, Aiden Estill 9-(-47).
PASSING — Ellensburg, Helgeson 3-6-0-35, Ryan Ferguson 3-7-0-58. East Valley, Estill 10-24-4-64.
RECEIVING — Ellensburg, Spencer Conaway 1-35, Riley Seed 3-31, Henry Rinehart 1-15, Brandon Mellergaard 1-12. East Valley, Joren Hooper 2-16, Drew Davis, 3-24, Juarez 1-5, Smith 4-24.