Rocky Mountain High football coach Chris Culig admitted his team started to feel the pressure of an undefeated season.
But once the playoffs started, he said that vanished. And the Grizzlies played liked it Friday, holding off several Timberline comeback attempts in the fourth quarter to hang on for a 33-20 victory in the 5A state quarterfinals.
The win stretches No. 1-ranked Rocky Mountain’s winning streak to 22 games, and it clinches the Grizzlies a spot in the semifinals for the seventh year in a row.
Rocky Mountain (10-0) will host Rigby (8-1) at 7 p.m. next Friday for a spot in the state finals.
“People kind of see us as this undefeated team from last season and this season combined, but we try to look at it as we went undefeated this season in 2019,” said Rocky Mountain senior defensive lineman Jacob Piscione, one of eight returning starters on the state’s top defense. “... This team is completely different than last year’s team. And that’s the way we like it.”
That defense rallied to save the day yet again Friday. Timberline has mounted fourth-quarter rallies all year. But a pair of fourth-and-goal stops in the final 3 minutes kept the Wolves at bay.
Senior defensive back Brayden Rundell answered the bell first, blitzing and batting down a pass on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. That gave Rocky Mountain the ball back with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left.
But the Grizzlies couldn’t pick up a first down to run out the clock. And when a shanked punt set Timberline up at the 25-yard line with 2:14 left, Rocky Mountain’s defense came to the rescue again.
Piscione beat his man on fourth-and-goal with 1:38 left, wrapping up Timberline quarterback Andy Peters as he scrambled and forcing an errant throw to finally end the Wolves’ comeback threat.
Even with Timberline rallying, Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig continued to bring pressure from all over the field. And it paid off when it counted the most.
“We believe in pressure and getting after the quarterback,” Culig said. “I wasn’t about to leave my guns in my pocket.”
Rocky Mountain nursed a 13-6 lead at halftime before turning to Devon Fox in the Wildcat formation. The Wolves had no answer for the power run, which the Grizzlies had only used sparingly this season.
Rocky Mountain ran for 255 yards, including 171 in the second half. Fox finished with 171 yards and a TD on 17 carries, including 131 yards on 12 carries in the second half.
“Devon’s pretty awesome in there,” Culig said. “We’ve been working on that for a while, and we’ve had multiple people playing that spot. But he does it really well, so it’s kind of finding that trigger guy.”
The victory keeps Rocky Mountain’s quest for history alive. No 5A Southern Idaho Conference team has won back-to-back state titles since the state-sponsored 5A playoffs started in 1979.
Rocky Mountain’s 22-game winning streak is also the longest at the 5A level since Coeur d’Alene won 24 straight from 2010 to 2012 en route to back-to-back state titles (2010-11). The Grizzlies could tie that mark with another state title.
The loss ends a historic season for Timberline (6-5), which rallied from 0-9 a year ago to get the first playoff win in program history last week.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Timberline coach Ian Smart said. “You look at the crowd that came out here, and I don’t think I’ve seen that many people combined at a Timberline game in a full season.
“To have that support and get the community moving in the right direction, all that falls on these kids.”
ROCKY MTN 33, TIMBERLINE 20
RM — Jordan Erickson 17 run (Steven Stoddard kick), 11:54
RM — Max Nead 8 pass from Colby Jackson (pass failed), 2:46
TIM — Andy Peters 2 run (kick blocked), 0:00
RM — Erickson 2 run (Stoddard kick), 7:57
RM — Nead 2 pass from Jackson (Stoddard kick), 0:19
TIM — Lachlan Johnson 30 interception return (kick failed), 9:31
RM — Devon Fox 11 run (pass failed), 8:14
TIM — Elijah Keck 36 pass from Andy Peters (Peters to Keck pass), 6:18
RUSHING — Timberline: Andy Peters 6-17, Kyle Adams 15-45, Taylor Marcum 6-1, Team 1-(-4). Rocky Mountain: Jordan Erickson 14-81, Colby Jackson 3-12, Devon Fox 17-171, Bronson Staley 1-(-2), Team 1-(-7).
PASSING — Timberline: Peters 18-33-1 258. Rocky Mountain: Jackson 13-18-1 100.
RECEIVING — Timberline: Elijah Keck 2-59, Jackson Schultz 7-125, Nicolas Caballero 7-60, Kyle Adams 1-10, Team 1-4. Rocky Mountain: Erickson 1-1, Noah Kraft 3-35, Kaden Birch 1-11, Max Nead 3-18, Elijah Almanza 4-39, Tiloi Nawahine 1-(-4).