Football: Despite second-half surge, Huskies fall to Hidden Valley

Benny Westcott

Friday night’s score wasn’t as lopsided as the Huskies’ loss to Hidden Valley last season, but some spark on both sides of the ball in the second half wasn’t enough to best the Mustangs, who prevailed 36-16 in Sweet Home on Sept. 24.

Hidden Valley improves to 2-1 on the year, despite being without starting quarterback Nate Vidlak, who was injured in the Sept. 17 Banks contest.

The first half was all Mustangs, as Sweet Home’s defense proved ineffective against a steady diet of runs from junior running back Daniel Iwamizu, who often lined up in the backfield alongside Noah Stone, switching off quarterbacking duties.

Hidden Valley first got the ball after the Huskies’ opening drive – which featured three straight handoffs to senior running back Daniel Luttrell, a backfield sack of junior quarterback Heath Nichol, and an incomplete pass – was cut short by the Mustang defense.

Luttrell’s short punt didn’t pass midfield, allowing Hidden Valley to start in Husky territory.

The Mustangs marched down the short field, ultimately scoring on an Iwamizu run. Senior Charlie Crawford blocked the point-after kick.

On the Huskies’ ensuing possession, Nichol threw an interception to Noah Stone, who took the ball back to Sweet Home’s 14-yard line. The Husky defense held firm this time, holding the Mustangs to a field goal, bringing the score to 9-0 with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter.

The Huskies then went four and out, as a big pass downfield to junior Kaden Zajic fell incomplete under heavy pressure from Hidden Valley, as well as a slant route to junior Brady Nichols on fourth and one.

Upon getting the ball back, Hidden Valley found the end zone when Iwamizu, acting as quarterback, handed the ball off to Stone, who ran the rock across the goal line, bringing the score to 16-0 Hidden Valley after a successful point-after kick.

The Huskies were again unable to move the ball, as Nichol was sacked on fourth down, fumbling the ball, which Hidden Valley then recovered. Stone passed to Iwamizu for big yardage, and the latter hit the end zone on a later play, stretching his team’s lead to 23-0 going into halftime.

The Huskies’ defense got the ball rolling at the start of the second half, however, when senior Jacob Ingram snagged an interception, giving Sweet Home the ball at Hidden Valley’s 37-yard line. But the offense was unable to capitalize, forced to punt after three straight lost-yardage plays. Yet Sweet Home’s defense held again, forcing Hidden Valley into a punt of their own.

On the next possession, the Huskies finally found their stride on the offensive side. Nichols shifted his way past multiple Mustang defenders for a 52-yard touchdown run, then hit the end zone again on a two-point conversion attempt, narrowing the Mustangs’ lead to 23-8.

“My line opened up a perfect hole,” Nichols said.

The Husky defense held strong, but Hidden Valley’s punt pinned Sweet Home deep in their own territory. A fumble on a handoff from Nichol to Luttrell gave their opponents the ball just three yards from the end zone, and Iwamizu found Stone on a touchdown pass. The Mustangs fumbled the snap on the point-after attempt, but the team was still able to extend its lead to 29-8 with nine minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the game.

The Husky offense still had some fireworks left to close the deficit, however, as Nichol passed to a wide-open Nichols, who ran the ball untouched into the end zone from 45 yards out.

“Their defense bit really hard,” Nichols said. “Our outside receiver Trenton Smith sold his route perfectly.”

The Nichol-to-Nichols combination again tacked on two more points for Sweet Home, bringing the score to 29-16.

With two minutes and 48 seconds left, Iwamizu scored a rushing touchdown, increasing the visitors’ lead to 36-16. A final drive deep into Mustang territory was cut short when Nichol threw an interception while trying to find a receiver near the Husky sideline.

“The first half didn’t go as planned,” said Nichols, who was responsible for all of his team’s points. “At halftime, we knew that we could work harder. We needed to play as a team. No more pattycake tackles; we had to wrap up.”

He said this week in practice the team will focus on “wrapping up, making tackles, hitting hard and playing hard.”

Luttrell credited the Mustangs.

“We played as hard as we could. Hidden Valley is good,” he said. “They’ve got good coaching and everything. We tried our best.”

He added that Head Coach Ryan Adams told the team at halftime, “We’ve got to play with urgency.” Luttrell credited one player, sophomore offensive and defensive lineman Nathan Aker, who had at least two big tackles for losses, for already bringing that urgency.

“That boy is insane,” Luttrell said. “He really brought the energy for us.”

Adams noted that his team “got off to a slow start. We kind of tried to do too much on both sides of the ball. We were expecting them to have their starting quarterback, and were preparing for his athleticism and ability to throw the ball. When we found out that he was hurt, it took us a bit to adjust to their run game.

“Our defensive coaches did a good job of making those adjustments at halftime, and we scored a bit to make it a little more interesting in the second half. I’m proud of the boys for continuing,” he added.

“Before the game we talked a lot about doing what’s necessary to look ourselves in the mirror when the game’s over and know that we gave full effort,” he continued. “We talked about doing our job so that after the game we could feel satisfied.

“Sometimes, as a team we struggle to do our individual jobs. We tend to overcompensate and try to help others do their job.”

He said that his defense played the first half with two high safeties in a 4-3 position, but switched to more of a 4-4 look in the second with one high safety, which allowed Luttrell and Smith to get “back in the box” and “let them be run stoppers.”

Luttrell led the team in rushing yardage with 62 yards on 19 plays. Nichols rushed for 66 yards on six carries, and Nichol rushed for 45 yards on four attempts.

Nichol threw for 66 yards and one touchdown, notching two completions on 10 throws. Nichols led the team in receiving yards with 45, while Kaden Zajic caught one ball for 21 yards.

Nichols had 13 tackles, while Aiker had 12.

The Huskies, 2-2, line up next on the road against Newport at 1 p.m. Sat., Oct. 2, a game that starts the team’s league schedule. Newport, 0-4, will be chasing its first win while Sweet Home will look to clear .500 on the season.