PROSSER — If last year’s Sunnyside win marked a turning point in one of the Lower Valley’s best rivalries, Friday night’s season opener will go down as an emphatic statement for the Grizzlies.
Fifth-year coach John Lobbestael’s exuberance matched or exceeded that of his players, as he encouraged them to celebrate his first win at Prosser by throwing handfuls of end zone grass into the air like confetti. Sunnyside’s defense set the tone early, and the offense finished off a convincing 35-13 victory.
“It means a lot because they’ve been talking a lot,” senior wide receiver and cornerback Jonathan Sanchez said. “But we came and shut them down, and it’s a good feeling.”
He came up with the first of three first-quarter interceptions, nearly returning it all the way to set up the Grizzlies’ first touchdown. Mike Rivera picked off the next pass from quarterback Haden Hicks before Sanchez snagged another one to set up a second touchdown.
Just when the Mustangs finally started moving the ball with the help of a 36-yard completion to Brock Weinmann, Sunnyside recovered a fumble to end the scoring threat. The Grizzlies added a blocked punt in the second quarter and constantly harassed Hicks in his first start at quarterback.
Sunnyside’s Logan Rodriguez also made his debut, and the sophomore acknowledged some nerves when he came out under center against some of his friends and former Grid Kids teammates. But short completions to his running backs and Sanchez gave Rodriguez a chance to get comfortable with Prosser’s defense focused on stopping wideout Mike Rivera.
“We watched a lot of film and we knew what they did,” Rodriguez said. “So we just knew how we had to counter, then go to Mikey and we did it.”
Rivera picked up a pair of pass interference calls and saw a deep ball go off his fingertips but was otherwise quiet for the first half. Then when the senior finally found himself alone on the left side of the field in man-to-man coverage, he took Rodriguez’s long pass 77 yards for a touchdown just before the third quarter ended.
A year ago Rivera had six of Sunnyside’s seven receptions and totaled 139 yards in a 22-19 win. This time Rodriguez threw for 200 yards and four other Grizzlies caught passes, led by Sanchez’s four catches for 42 yards.
Hicks recovered from a disastrous start to throw for 198 yards, completing 16 of his last 20 passes. He also showed off the elusiveness that made him such a great receiver last season, often avoiding a relentless rush from the Sunnyside defensive line.
It looked like Prosser might find a way back when Case Reinmuth caught 43-yard hail mary tipped up by a defender on the last play of the first half, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to start the third quarter. But the Grizzlies followed up Logan Candanoza’s touchdown run with a nine play, 77-yard drive capped off by Devin Escamilla’s 14-yard touchdown run to put his team ahead 28-13.
The game’s physicality resulted in several injuries, none more devastating than the one suffered by Hicks at the end of a long run to convert a third down and long. The junior who missed the second half of last season after fracturing three vertebrae in his spine didn’t return and left the field with his right arm in a sling.
To add insult to injury, a personal foul after the play negated the first down, and Sunnyside’s defense held once again. Backup quarterback Kaiden Rivera led one more drive inside the five yard line before coming up short, summing up a frustrating night for the Mustangs’ offense.
They’ll look to bounce back next week against another Big Nine opponent when they travel to West Valley. Sunnyside will take plenty of confidence into its home matchup with Cleveland.
Sun — Devontay Herrera 1 run (Rivera pass from Rodriguez)
Sun — Herrera 3 run (Rivera run)
Sun — Dominick Gonzalez 2 run (kick failed)
Pro — Case Reinmuth 43 pass from Haden Hicks (Ryan Beightol kick)
Pro — Candanoza 4 run (run failed)
Sun — Devin Escamilla 14 run (pass failed)
Sun — Mike Rivera 73 pass from Logan Rodriguez (Patrick Gallagher kick good)
RUSHING — Sunnyside, Escamilla 12-92, Herrera 8-34, Eddie Davila 8-29, Dominick Gonzalez 5-16, Noah Rodriguez 1-2, Team 2 (-4), Jonathan Sanchez 2-(-7), Rodriguez 2-(-16). Prosser, Logan Candanoza 12-40, Diego Chavez 6-26, Gabe Stultzman 2-13, Kaiden Rivera 2-5, Will Thompson 1-(-6), Haden Hicks 10-(-15).
PASSING — Sunnyside, Rodriguez 12-22-1-200. Prosser, Hicks 17-24-3-198, Rivera 5-10-0-65.
RECEIVING — Sunnyside, Rivera 1-77, Sanchez 4-42, Adrian Pedroza 2-44, Escamilla 3-22, Herrera 2-15. Prosser, Reinmuth 4-102, Will Thompson 5-42, Brock Weinmann 1-36, Kernan 3-35, Ian Moreno 2-17, Candanoza 3-12, Chavez 2-11, Kaden Swift 1-8, Jake Jensen 1-0.