TOUCHET — If you’re inclined to take stock in moral victories, the Touchet Indians perhaps secured one here Friday in a homecoming football game played under bluebird skies on a crisp October afternoon.
The Indians’ 12-0 Southeast 1B-8 League loss to St. John-Endicott-Lacrosse marked the first time since the final game of the 2017 season — a 34-16 home loss to Colton — that a Touchet team played four full quarters without game officials implementing the 40-point mercy rule.
That certainly qualifies as progress.
But considering the team’s many penalties (10 for 75 yards), turnovers (two lost fumbles, three interceptions), other miscues and missed opportunities, it’s doubtful that first-year coach Jon Wright or any of his players took much solace in playing nearly to the final whistle with the game still on the line.
“We were in the game the whole time except for the final three minutes when they punched that second touchdown in,” Wright assessed.
“That’s probably the most penalties we’ve had all season, and I pride myself on how disciplined my team is,” he added. “Little mistakes killed us. We just made some bonehead moves and that is what the game came down to.”
For instance, Touchet’s second possession of the game.
After recovering an onside kick to get the game underway and then advancing the ball inside the SJEL 10-yard line before turning the ball over on downs, the Indians quickly regained possession when Kaedyn Gallaher recovered an Eagles fumble 25 yards from paydirt.
Bryan Vazquez ran for 8 yards on first down, and on second down the Indians sent three receivers to the left side of their alignment. Quarterback Zac Jaggar found Vazquez all alone in the end zone for a touchdown and what appeared to be a quick lead for a team hungry for just that.
But an Indians offensive lineman drew a flag for being illegally down field.
The penalty wiped out the score, Jaggar was sacked for a 16-yard loss on a bad snap from center on the next play and the scoring opportunity died when the QB’s next two passes fell incomplete.
“I haven’t watched that clip yet,” Wright said, “but I’m pretty sure our guy was too far down the field.”
Another costly mistake occurred early in the second quarter when the Indians faced a fourth-and-8 from their own 20-yard line.
Wright clearly called for a punt from the sidelines, but Jaggar instead dropped back and fired an incomplete pass deep down the middle of the field.
“That one is on me,” the coach said. “Zac is still nursing a sore ankle and he couldn’t punt because of his ankle. We should have had our other punter in there and that was a lack of communication between us coaches.”
On the very next play, the Eagles’ Chais Anderson zipped 20 yards for a touchdown and the visitors from Whitman County had the lead for good.
The Indians defense kept the game within reach by stopping SJEL four times on downs deep in Touchet territory, the last time on another Gallaher fumble recovery on the 2-yard line.
“I thought we did a good job defensively,” Wright said. “The boys played great on both sides to tell you the truth, we just have to learn how to finish drives and finish games.”
Following the fumble recovery, Touchet punched the ball out to the 18.
But with time running out, the Indians took a chance on fourth down and turned the ball back to Eagles.
It took SJEL three plays to reach the end zone, Kaiden Bertrand finishing off the 18-yard drive on a 3-yard run for a two-score lead with 3:36 to play.
Touchet’s final two possessions were thwarted by pass interceptions as the Indians saw their record slip to 0-4 in league play and 0-5 overall heading into a game here Friday against Sunnyside Christian.
The Indians might be without Jaggar, their junior quarterback, who left the game in the second half with a knee injury, as well as senior center Evan McMakin, who was ejected in the fourth quarter and by rule will be suspended for one game.
“We don’t know what Zac’s status is, but his knee was swelling up pretty good,” Wright said of Jaggar. “With that and what is going on around Evan (McMakin), we have things to work out.”
The Eagles are now 1-4 in league games and 2-4 overall. They will entertain Pomeroy Friday night in a league game.
Eagles 12, Indians 0
SJEL — C. Anderson 20 run (pass failed).
SJEL — Bertrand 3 run (pass failed).
RUSHING — SJEL: Bertrand 15-58, Campbell 10-9, C. Anderson 12-83, Stach 7-(-27); Touchet: Gallaher 9-24, Gonzalez 7-30, Jaggar 9-(-4), Vazquez 8-24, Dodd 7-19.
PASSING — SJEL: Campbell 2-11-0, 18 yards. Touchet: Jaggar 0-4-1, Dodd 0-9-2.
RECEIVING — SJEL: Bertrand 2-18-0; Touchet: none.