GRANDVIEW, Wash. — Give Prosser an opening and the Mustangs will probably find a way to take advantage.
It's difficult to build a safe lead against their dynamic passing attack, so missing opportunities to score will often prove costly. Prosser's physicality can create weaknesses or simply wear down opponents, even those as tough as longtime rival Ellensburg.
The Mustangs proved all of that Saturday night at Rich Leenhouts Stadium, where they rallied for a 32-24 win over the Bulldogs for a second straight CWAC title. An explosive offense and a determined defense did just enough to send Prosser home with the 31st league trophy in its rich history.
"It's special," coach Corey Ingvalson said. "Any time that you can add to our trophy case we'll take it and we'll be very proud this year."
Will Thompson's 98-yard touchdown catch from Kaiden Rivera on third down and long gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game with less than five minutes remaining. Brock Weinmann's interception set up a Logan Candanoza score before the Prosser defense held one last time as Ellensburg's starting quarterback watched helplessly from the sideline with a wrist injury suffered on his first throw of the drive.
Rivera failed to connect on several deep passes, but he kept trying and never threw an interception. Kaden Swift and Case Reinmuth both caught touchdown passes from the sophomore quarterback, who threw for 353 yards.
Prosser needed anything it could get from him against a dominant Ellensburg defensive that stuffed the Mustangs' running game while also picking up three sacks, all in the second half. The Bulldogs' also controlled the line of scrimmage offensively for much of the game, paving the way for 265 rushing yards, including 166 in the first half.
Dion Hardeman nearly reached the century mark on 15 carries, breaking plenty of tackles along the way. When Ferguson threw the ball, it seemed to catch the defense by surprise and he connected for touchdowns of 45 yards to George Wright in the first quarter, then 46 yards to Ryker Fortier early in the second half.
"Those guys punched us square in the face," Ingvalson said. "They played physical and so we just had to answer the bell."
He said that made the difference in the second half, and Ellensburg's offense lost its most valuable weapon when Hardeman went down with a concussion after getting hit while playing defensive back early in the third quarter. After dealing with some frustration, he quickly became one of the Bulldogs' most vocal players on an animated sideline.
Prosser's defense delivered a few big plays, highlighted by a fumble forced at its own 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. Ellensburg responded by stopping Kase Tuttle short on a critical third down inside its own 25, then downed a punt at the 2-yard line after the Mustangs defense stood tall again.
Rivera narrowly avoided a safety on two incompletions, setting up a critical third down. He evaded a tackler in the end zone and then heaved it deep down the left sideline to Thompson, who had beaten his man and saw only green turf in front of him.
"Kaiden just told me to run a fade," Thompson said. "I'm taking it all the way, hopefully no one's close behind me, and (I) just went for it."
Ellensburg managed to cross midfield one last time but couldn't avoid its third straight loss to Prosser, a streak that started with last year's CWAC title game. Both teams will enjoy taking the next week off to rest and heal some injuries before going back to the 2A state playoffs.
Ell — George Wright 45 pass from Ryan Ferguson (Elijah Harper kick)
Pro — Kaden Swift 44 pass from Kaiden Rivera (kick failed)
Ell — Brenden Swanson 3 run (Harper kick)
Ell — FG Harper 36
Pro — Rivera 1 run (kick failed)
Ell — Ryker Fortier 46 pass from Ferguson (Harper kick)
Pro — Case Reinmuth 21 pass from Rivera (Ryan Beightol kick)
Pro — Will Thompson 98 pass from Rivera (pass failed)
Pro — Logan Candanoza 1 run (Beightol kick)
RUSHING — Ellensburg, Swanson 12-106, Dion Hardeman 15-98, Ferguson 7-41, Henry Rinehart 5-11, Joe Ewald 1-9. Prosser, Diego Chavez 4-20, Candanoza 7-11, Kase Tuttle 1-5, Rivera 7-(minus-4), TEAM 1-(minus-2).
PASSING — Ellensburg, Ferguson 6-10-1-123, Joe Ewald 0-2-0-0, Swanson 0-1-0-0; Prosser, Rivera 18-37-0-357.
RECEIVING — Ellensburg, Ryker Fortier 1-46, George Wright 1-45, Hardeman 1-14, Swanson 2-16, Rinehart 1-2. Prosser, Will Thompson 4-144, Candanoza 5-69, Kaden Swift 2-57, Case Reinmuth 2-45, Brock Weinmann 3-13, Reilly Williams, Anthony Kernan 2-29, Jake Jensen, Diego Chavez.