Nick Romano gave everything he had and then some.
Rocky Mountain’s senior running back started the third quarter puking into a trash can on the sideline. But he finished the game with 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns to send the top-ranked Grizzlies to a 42-14 victory over No. 2 Coeur d’Alene in the 5A state semifinals Friday night at Brighton Stadium.
“I know he’s really tough, so that’s no question,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “... Nick’s just really strong. He has tremendous willpower, so he wasn’t coming out no matter what.”
After losing in the state semifinals the previous two seasons, Rocky Mountain (11-0) will play in the state championship game against Highland (10-1) at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Albertsons Stadium. It will be the second title appearance in program history for the Grizzlies, who beat Mountain View 41-22 in 2015.
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“We started literally the Monday after the season ended last year in the weight room,” Culig said. “We didn’t wait a week. We started, and everybody’s bought in to giving just a little bit more.”
Romano opened the second half with a 70-yard run on the Grizzlies’ first play, and he scored on a 9-yard run two plays later to put the Grizzlies up 28-14 with 10:45 left in the third quarter. When he came off the field, Romano went straight to the trash can.
“There was a lot of emotions going into it, and it just seemed to end up like that,” Romano said. “I had to let it all go.”
While the Rocky Mountain offense rattled off three second-half touchdowns, the Grizzlies’ defense did its part with a second-half shutout of the Vikings (9-1).
“Our team, when we play to our best potential, we can do that to anyone,” Romano said. “I really think that if we keep being united as a team, then we can do anything.”
[Related: 5A to 1A state playoff brackets]
Senior linebacker Garrett Beck and senior defensive back Jaxon Pabst each came up with interceptions of Coeur d’Alene quarterback Kale Edwards in the third quarter. It was the first pick of the season for Beck and the fifth for Pabst, giving Rocky Mountain a state-leading 34 takeaways in 2018.
“We knew Coeur d’Alene was going to be tough. They’re good on both sides of the ball. They’ve got a lot of athletes up there. They’re well-coached,” Rocky Mountain quarterback Colby Jackson said. “But we knew we were good, too.
“The first half it was a battle, but the second half we just took off.”
Jackson, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior, provided the counterattack to the Romano battering ram, passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to junior receiver Kaden Birch.
The Grizzlies and Vikings were tied at 7-7 in the first quarter and 14-14 in the second after Edwards jumped the pile for a 1-yard touchdown with 3:54 left before halftime.
But Rocky Mountain didn’t let Coeur d’Alene carry that momentum into the break. The Grizzlies executed a seven-play, 80-yard drive in a little more than two minutes for a 21-14 advantage that only grew bigger in the second half.
“We’re united, and we’ve still got work to do,” Jackson said. “We’ll be ready to go next week.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN 42, COEUR D’ALENE 14
CDA — Shilo Morgan 10 run (Gabriel Nazemi kick), 10:08
RM — Conner Croft 3 run (Steven Stoddard kick), 7:09
RM — Nick Romano 2 run (Stoddard kick), 8:03
CDA — Kale Edwards 1 run (Nazemi kick), 3:54
RM — Kaden Birch 19 pass from Colby Jackson (Stoddard kick), 1:14
RM — Romano 9 run (Stoddard kick), 10:45
RM — Birch 11 pass from Jackson (Stoddard kick), 11:55
RM — Romano 5 run (Stoddard kick), 6:58
RUSHING — CDA: Edwards 11-34, Morgan 11-55. Rocky: Jordan Erickson 5-28, Jackson 1-5, Croft 2-5, Zach Cameron 1-(-1), Romano 25-205, Maxwell Lehman 5-6.
PASSING — CDA: Edwards 22-36-2 242, Morgan 0-1-0 0. Rocky: Jackson 11-18-1 151.
RECEIVING — CDA: Colbey Nosworthy 6-82, Morgan 5-27, Gunner Giulio 7-78, Jacob Pratt 1-6, Jake Brown 1-10, Carter Friesz 2-39. Rocky: Birch 2-30, Croft 2-38, Romano 1-8, Brayden Hamilton 6-75.