By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Two game minutes later, the top-ranked Red Devils led by eight points and were on their way to securing a berth in the state semifinals with a 80-28 win.
Neah Bay’s offense, which opened Friday’s game with a turnover on downs and a fumble, finally got something going on its third drive.
A long run by Collin Haupt set up a 50-yard touchdown run by Cody Cummins with one second left in the first quarter.
A few plays into the second quarter, Elisha Winck, John Reamer and Josiah Greene had an open path to Cusick quarterback Tyson Shanholtzer, who threw a screen pass.
Reamer jumped to swat the pass, but instead pulled it down and then evaded Shanholtzer’s tackle on his way to the end zone to tie the game at 14-14.
“That was awesome, wasn’t it?” Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley said.
“It was a nice play. He’s got good hands. He works on it a lot.”
The Red Devils then held the Panthers to a three-and-out on the next drive.
Cusick lined up to punt, but the snap went over Alec Bluff’s head. He tracked down the ball and squared to kick it, but Greene and Winck were right there to block it, and Winck jumped on the ball before it bounced out of the end zone.
With 10 minutes to play in the first half, Neah Bay had taken a 22-14 lead.
The Red Devils were awake, and Cusick’s bleeding continued.
Cummins forced a fumble that Greene recovered deep in Panthers territory.
Josiah Greene’s shovel pass to Ezekiel Greene a few plays later made it 28-14 for the Red Devils.
“Well, we blew them out, but we came out slow, and that’s something we’re trying to work on,” Reamer, who finished with 14 tackles, said.
“Once we get rolling, we poured it on them. Once the emotion gets into it, it’s over.
“It’s just a matter of we underestimated them, I guess. But once we realized who they were, we came out ready.”
However, Cusick continued to show what they are, which is the team that overcame a 20-point deficit with 34 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes last week against defending 1B champion Liberty Christian.
The Panthers defense made a stop and then drove down the field using a nifty reverse that caused Neah Bay fits in the first half. Shanholtzer scored on an 8-yard touchdown with 53 seconds to play in the half to cut the Red Devils’ lead to 28-22.
But, there were still 53 seconds to play.
Josiah Greene tossed a pass over the defense into the arms of Ezekiel Greene for a 93-yard touchdown. 34-22, Neah Bay.
There were still 38 seconds remaining in the half.
With nine second to play in the half, Ezekiel Greene picked off a pass and returned it to the Cusick 40-yard line.
Josiah Greene dropped back for another pass, but ended up taking off for the end zone. And he almost made it, but was tackled at the 4-yard line to end the half with the score 34-22.
After halftime, the Red Devils put up 34 points in the third quarter to take a 66-22 lead.
They had all but officially survived what is likely their toughest game of the season so far.
“Excellent test. I thought [Cusick] played us really super tough in the first half,” McCaulley said.
“I don’t know if they were that good, or we were flat, but I think they played really well.
“If it wasn’t for the turnovers, it might have been different for them.”
Cusick turned the ball over seven times, which led to 34 of Neah Bay’s points.
Ezekiel Greene accounted for three of those turnovers, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery to go along with 10 tackles.
He also caught seven passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns.
Josiah Greene completed 11 of 17 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 131 yards and two scores on 14 carries.
Haupt led the Red Devils with 203 yards, including an 80-yard sprint to the end zone, on 14 carries.
Reamer said Cusick provided a wake-up call for the Red Devils that the state postseason won’t be as simple as the regular season.
“It just, you know, it gets your mind right, so we never come in with that attitude again, like, ‘Oh, we can’t be beat,’” he said.
“We’re out here ready to play now.”
The Panthers forced McCaulley to play starting running backs Cummins and Tyler McCaulley, both recovering from injuries, more than he would have preferred.
Both players survived, though Tyler McCaulley had a moment of alarm early in the third quarter that forced him to spend the remainder of the game riding a stationary bike.
“Ty didn’t get to play all that much, but he played well when he did,” Tony McCaulley said of his son.
“We got to rest him and he got through healthy. He was just scared because he has been injured; but he’s good, he made it through, so he’ll play next week.
“I think we come out pretty healthy, even [though] that was a hard-hitting game.
“We’re really trying to keep guys healthy for the big run here. I didn’t know if we were going to make it through for a little bit, but we came through and played like we play once we got rolling.”
Cummins carried the ball four times, two of which went for touchdowns. He finished with 78 yards rushing.
By winning with those two players limited, Neah Bay put its depth on display.
Tony McCaulley said Winck performed “extremely well” filling in for Tyler McCaulley on offense and defense.
“We started out pretty tough. We just ran out of bodies. We ran out of athletes to put in athletic positions,” Cusick coach Sonny Finley said.
“And they’re a good team. I give them all the credit.
They deserve everything that they’ve [been] talked about, and we had them fired up, we had them ready to play.
“If you can’t play four quarters, you’re not going to beat Neah Bay.”
The Red Devils (10-0) next face the winner between Lummi and Wishkah Valley this weekend at the Tacoma Dome in the 1B semifinals.
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.