(Original Story by Casey Grogan, Assistant Sports Information Director, Pacific University)
CALDWELL, Idaho — It was sorta like deja vu all over again. But different.
The Pacific Boxers scored 20 unanswered fourth quarters points and then watched a potential game winning field goal by College of Idaho sail wide right to hang on for a wild 32-31 non-conference football win over the Coyotes in front of 4,234 stunned fans at Simplot Stadium.
In 2014, College of Idaho blocked a Pacific field goal with less than a minute to play in Forest Grove to hold on for a 35-34 win.
COI, who opened the 2015 season last weekend with an upset win over No. 13 Eastern Oregon (NAIA), fell to 1-1. It was the season kick-off for Keith Buckley’s Boxers, who will take a 1-0 record into a bye week and then into their first home game on Sept. 19 against Dubuque (Iowa).
“That was as calm as a comeback as I have ever been a part of,” said a pleased Buckley after the game. “We didn’t get too high nor too low throughout the game. When we got behind, no one flinched. There was no panic from coaches or players. I think that is a sign of maturity.”
Still, no one NOT on the Boxer sideline saw this kind of ending coming, especially when the hosts took a 31-12 lead into the fourth quarter.
After a tight first half that saw the Coyotes take a 14-12 lead into the halftime locker room, COI seemingly put plenty of distance between themselves and the visitors with a 17-0 run in the third quarter. Teejay Gordon threw scoring strikes of 63 yards to CJ Gonzalez and 30 yards to Wes Fitzpatrick, and Hartvig Bondo added a 35-yard field goal. Meanwhile the Boxers, who had eight first downs in the first half, didn’t get their initial chain mover of the second half until the final player of the third quarter.
But that’s when the momentum would start to swing back Pacific’s way.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Boxer quarterback Warner Shaw threw a 30-yard strike to Nathan Suyematsu for a first down and then found Jason Smith at the goal line from eight yards out to bring the visitors closer at 31-19.
On the ensuing ‘Yote possession, senior linebacker Jack Perez stripped the ball away from J.J. Hyde, giving Pacific the ball at the 38-yard line. That was the first turnover of the game and it would turn out to be a huge one.
Next, Bronson Barretto would scamper and hurdle a tackler for a 25-yard run, and a COI personal foul tacked on more real estate and took the ball down to the eight-yard line. On the next play, Barretto then swept right and dove for the pylon for another Boxer score, moving the count to 31-26.
After a College of Idaho punt was downed on the six-yard line, the Boxers would go on a back breaking seven-play, 94-yard drive that included three pass completions of 20+ yards from Shaw to Suyematsu. Pacific then reached paydirt on a 19-yard split end screen from Shaw to James Berry, who broke one tackle and then dove into the end zone to make it 32-31. The two-point attempt failed with 5:23 left on the clock.
While that score would stand, there was plenty more drama before it was sealed. On the kickoff, Pacific’s Zach Tucker forced a fumble and Ryan Sinkking would recover giving the Boxers the ball back–and allowing them the opportunity to run some time off the clock.
That they did, with Barretto and Kamana Pimental running off chunks of yardage and time until the drive ended with 2:01 left. But Pacific’s field goal attempt of 34 yards and potential insurance went wide right, giving the home team once last chance.
Gordon, who threw for 342 yards (16-27, 3 TD’s), made sure the Coyotes went down slinging. He connected with Shayne Robinson on a perfectly thrown sideline route, good for 50 yards and entrance into Boxer territory at the 30-yard line with 57 seconds left. A seven-yard pass gain took the ball to the 23-yard line, where Gordon then spiked the ball on third down, stopping the clock with 37 seconds left–setting up the nail biting 40-yard miss .
Pacific then took a knee to run out the rest of the clock and the celebration began on the Boxer sideline.
In the first quarter, the Boxer defense stifled the Coyote run game and Pacific’s offense moved the ball well, giving Buckley’s squad a 6-0 lead on a 16-yard Pimental run early in the first quarter.
“That was important for us to start fast, to play well early,” Buckley explained. “I believe that allowed us to stay calm and confident when things weren’t going our way.
Having seniors lead the way didn’t surprise Buckley at all.
“That calm confidence that they set as an example to others is a big deal,” he said. “We fed off each other in the fourth quarter, creating turnovers and taking away possessions from them. The number of guys that made big plays in the fourth quarter was amazing.”
Shaw, Suyematsu, Barretto, Pimental, Smith, Berry, Perez–all seniors, had big games.
Shaw connected on 17 of his 23 passing attempts for 213 yards and three touchdowns. Suyematsu, who had just over 100 yards in career passing yardage prior to the game, had a breakout day with seven catches for 134 yards. Smith nabbed his first college touchdown pass, while Barretto (66 yards) and Pimental (62 yards) provided a good 1-2 punch on the ground.
“I asked the team before the game, ‘Who are you’,” Buckley recalled. “I had a good idea of who we are, but I wanted them to answer that question in the game. I think we got a pretty good answer.”