The patch of mud and dirt stuck to the front of Phoenix Ruffin’s helmet was evidence of the all-out effort the senior put forth in the final home football game of his career.
The Fruitland High running back picked up yards any way he could Saturday afternoon, carrying the Grizzlies to a 45-33 victory over Gooding for a spot in the 3A state championship game for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
Fruitland (8-2) plays Shelley (11-0) at 4 p.m. next Saturday at Middleton High. Shelley beat Kimberly 40-27 on Saturday.
Ruffin finished with 243 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, accounting for more than half of the Grizzlies’ 379 rushing yards. He had the longest scoring play of the game, rumbling 76 yards for a TD early in the third quarter.
“He works his tail off,” senior receiver/corner Casey Rodriguez said. “We run a tight pitch pretty much all game, get three or four yards, and then finally he gets to break one loose. Linemen get a lot of the credit because they just wore them down, and then he did the rest.”
Junior running back Jordan Eggers and sophomore quarterback Cole Eiguren added two rushing scores apiece as the Grizzlies stuck to their traditional run-heavy attack. Eiguren attempted six passes in the game, completing two.
“Our linemen make it possible,” Ruffin said. “At practice, they are the hardest working guys out there always. They always have the hardest practice, and they don’t complain about anything. They just keep grinding.”
The same could be said for the Grizzlies’ receivers, who spend most of their time blocking and are lucky to have one or two passes thrown in their direction each game.
“Every team goes how your seniors play, and these guys have just done everything we’ve asked them,” Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy said. “We’ve asked kids to change positions, we’ve asked kids not to play so much on offense so they can play more on defense to make us better.
“They don’t even bat an eye about it. They just do it.”
This was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. Fruitland beat Gooding, last year’s state runner-up, 28-14 on Sept. 9.
On Saturday, the Grizzlies led 17-7 at halftime, denying the Senators (7-5) a first down until midway through the second quarter.
Gooding took its only lead of the game on a 1-yard run from senior quarterback Tyler Visser with 5:53 remaining in the third quarter. Visser had a hand in all five of the Senators’ touchdowns, rushing for 107 yards and 3 TDs and passing for 225 yards and two more scores.
But Fruitland didn’t let Gooding’s lead last long, responding with a nine-play, 66-yard drive that Eggers finished off with a 3-yard TD run and a 31-27 lead with 1:58 to play in the third quarter.
Eiguren put the game out of reach with a pair of 1-yard quarterback sneaks in the fourth quarter.
“It feels great to get back to the championship game,” Ruffin said. “I haven’t been there since sophomore year, and we didn’t win. As a senior, I want to punch it in there and win.”
State football finals
- 5A: Mountain View (10-2) vs. Capital (10-1), noon Saturday, Albertsons Stadium
- 4A: Skyline (11-0) vs. Bishop Kelly (11-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Albertsons Stadium
- 3A: Fruitland (8-2) vs. Shelley (11-0), 4 p.m. Saturday, Middleton High
- 2A: Declo (10-2) vs. St. Maries (11-0), 5:30 p.m. Friday, Holt Arena (Pocatello)
- 1A D-I: Oakley (9-2) vs. Raft River (11-0), 8 p.m. Friday, Holt Arena (Pocatello)
- 1A D-II: Salmon River (10-1) vs. Kendrick (9-1), 1 p.m. Saturday, Middleton High