New Prosser Rivera

Prosser quarterback Kaiden Rivera (4) winds up to throw during the Mustangs' 25-21 win over Toppenish on Friday night. (LUKE THOMPSON/Yakima Herald)

TOPPENISH — Prosser’s biggest moments of need brought out the best in quarterback Kaiden Rivera with the CWAC South title on the line Friday night in Toppenish.

The sophomore efficiently executed a pair of two-minute drills at the end of each half to beat a Wildcats defense determined to knock off the Mustangs for the first time in 31 years. Instead, Prosser held off a desperate final drive to win 25-21 and clinch another league championship berth.

Rivera ended the first half by leading the Mustangs on a seven-play, 70-yard drive in 52 seconds, capped off by a quarterback sneak as time expired. When Toppenish’s all-time leading receiver Manuel Felan caught an 85-yard touchdown pass with 2:02 remaining, Rivera once again called upon what he’s learned from facing those pressure situations every Thursday in the team’s pregame practices.

“It wasn’t any different,” Rivera said. “Our receivers are really good and our line does the job all the time.”

A quick completion to Will Thompson followed by Logan Candanoza’s 18-yard run quickly put Prosser into the red zone. Then on 2nd and 12, Rivera found Anthony Kernan on the left side of the end zone for a 20-yard game-winning touchdown with 46 seconds remaining.

The Wildcats secondary nearly picked off Rivera’s first pass of the game and largely held him in check, limiting the Mustangs’ dynamic passing game to just 184 yards and a completion rate below 50%. Candanoza’s strong running kept the offense going as he willed his way to 144 yards on 26 carries, including a pair of four-yard touchdown runs.

The senior also came up with some big plays on defense, highlighted by a critical sack to force a three and out when Toppenish had a short field and the lead in the third quarter. Prosser’s defense needed extra leadership in its first full game without Jake Coleman, who watched from the sideline in a neck brace due to a scary injury he suffered last week in a win over Ellensburg.

“He’s a warrior,” coach Corey Ingvalson said. “We talk in our program about being a dog, and that’s a dog. Just both ways, (we) just need him every play.”

As Candanoza kept grinding out yards and Toppenish began favoring a tight formation with two running backs, a game featuring two of the CWAC’s best passing attacks turned into a physical struggle played mostly on the ground. Ingvalson needed to adjust his 3-4 defense to put in some bigger players, and he said they did a better job creating a strong push up front after halftime.

Prosser effectively utilized double coverage to shut down Felan, the league’s leading receiver, until he broke free down the sideline in the second half. But Jason Grant stepped up early by catching a play-action pass and outrunning defenders for a 41-yard touchdown.

Toppenish scored its first touchdown by taking advantage of a short field thanks to a punt return fumble that Prosser thought it recovered. Then the Mustangs ended up on the right side of a couple of key fourth-down calls in the second half, when a conversion was called back because of an “illegal pushing” penalty and referees ruled Felan out of bounds after he appeared to get a foot down on a tough catch near the sideline.

Coach Jason Smith said his team showed impressive resolve to bounce back and take a late lead. Several players fell to the ground in anguish after a wild final play with multiple laterals, and Smith said his players will learn even more about themselves next week at Zillah.

“We will really see next week if we can bounce back because that team will just run it the whole time,” Smith said. “That’ll really teach us more if we are resilient next week than if we would have won next week.”

Prosser will host last-place Wapato before facing Ellensburg in the CWAC title game on Nov. 2 for the second straight season. Both teams have qualified for state and earned a bye week following the conference championship.

Prosser 6 6 6 7—25

Toppenish 0 14 0 7—21

Pro — Logan Candanoza 4 run (kick failed)

Top — Isaac Perez 1 run (Erik Rodriguez kick)

Top — Jason Grant 41 pass from Perez (Rodriguez kick)

Pro — Kaiden Rivera 1 run (run failed)

Pro — Candanoza 4 run (pass failed)

Top — Manuel Felan 85 pass from Perez (Rodriguez kick)

Pro — Anthony Kernan 20 pass from Rivera (Ryan Beightol kick)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — Prosser, Candanoza 26-144, Diego Chavez 7-41, Rivera 4-6. Toppenish, Isaias Ramirez 17-75, Angelo Ferolito 1-18, Grant 2-14, Manuel Felan 3-8, Jesus Jimenez 4-5, Perez 10-3.

PASSING — Prosser, Rivera 12-26-0-184. Toppenish, Perez 11-20-0-185.

RECEIVING — Prosser, Will Thompson 4-101, Brock Weinmann 3-46, Reilly Williams 1-8, Kernan 1-20, Jake Jensen 2-11, Chavez 1-(-2). Toppenish, Felan 4-93, Grant 1-41, I. Ramirez 1-23, Mathew Ramirez 3-13, Nick Garza 1-9, Feralito 1-6.

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe