When Meridian receiver Phoenix Hanneman leaped into the air over Timberline cornerback Zach Sell, it appeared as though Hanneman would make the game-changing catch the Warriors needed late in the fourth quarter.
But the 45-yard pass attempt turned into a game-clinching play for Timberline when Sell swooped in and grabbed the interception as the two players came tumbling to the ground.
Timberline scored seven plays later on Mitchell Peirsol’s 26-yard run up the middle for a 21-11 season-opening victory against Meridian on Saturday afternoon at Dona Larsen Park.
“That was one heck of a play by Zach Sell,” Timberline coach Kirk Copeland said. “That was one of the most amazing plays I’ve seen in high school by a (defensive back).”
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Timberline needed a big day from its defense as its offense struggled early. The Wolves’ first drive ended with a fumble, and their second possession lasted one play when Meridian’s Thomas Reece picked off a pass by junior quarterback Matt Crawford.
“Our defense saved us today. They had three goal-line stands, which is amazing,” Timberline senior QB Justin Lavin said. “I’ve never seen that in high school football. That was insane. They won us the football game right there.”
Meridian reached the red zone three times in the first half, but Timberline’s defense stood strong, limiting the Warriors to a 33-yard field goal by senior kicker Ricardo Duran at the start of the second quarter.
Timberline led 7-3 at halftime on junior fullback/defensive lineman Tyler Diehl’s 1-yard touchdown run with 6:46 to play in the second quarter. It was Diehl’s only carry.
“We have a couple (defensive) guys who we put in (on offense) who are physical players,” Copeland said. “It’s absolutely a reward for their physicality and how hard they practice and play.”
Peirsol, primarily a defensive end, also took advantage of limited touches. He led the Wolves with 68 yards on four carries, including the touchdown run with 1:20 left in the game.
Lavin, who took the majority of the Wolves’ snaps, completed 10-of-13 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown without an interception. His 12-yard TD toss to senior Drake O’Neill put Timberline ahead 14-11 with 4:16 remaining.
“I think we’re happy with the win, but we’re not satisfied with how we played,” said Peirsol, whose team racked up more than 100 yards in penalties.
Senior Trenton Hope scored Meridian’s only touchdown on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. Hope had a team-high 38 yards on 10 carries.
“I feel like we need to get in better shape as a team. We got gassed,” Meridian coach Porter Lacey said. “That’s on the coaching staff, so we’ve got to do a better job of getting our kids ready to play physically.”