By SVERRE BAKKE
Lyle/Wishram got their first win of the 2010 prep football season the old-fashioned way: They earned it.
Henry Matai and Nolan Smith combined to rush for 282 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday, and the Cougars defense made crucial stop after crucial stop in the second half as Lyle/Wishram ground out a 22-14 victory over Wishkah Valley/North River in Pacific 1B League action in Wishkah.
Gabe Montoya led the Cougars' defensive effort from his middle linebacker position. The eighth-grader finished with five tackles, 11 assists and one sack. Another standout was defensive back Chance Carpenter, who tallied three tackles and seven assists, and knocked down three passes.
"This is a big win for us in the new league," said Cougars Coach Smith. "Wishkah has a strong tradition of winning, and beating them on their home field is hard to do."
The host Loggers scored the game's first touchdown, setting themselves up with some big pass plays, but the Cougars countered with an opening scoring drive of their own.
Lyle/Wishram's offense presented Wishkah's defense with a jumbo backfield of Matai (5-11, 207) and Smith (6-3, 230) during that first series.
Smith got the Cougars rolling with a 28-yard gain on first down and scored five plays later from Wishkah's 4-yard line. He then ran for the 2-point conversion to give L/W an 8-6 advantage.
The Cougars extended their lead to 16-8 in the second quarter on a 47-yard run by Matai that came right after his 37-yard touchdown run around end had been negated by an offensive holding penalty.
Lyle/Wishram's John Stephens added the run for 2-point conversion to make it a 10-point game, though Smith called the result of the try "a miracle."
"(Quarterback) Ricky Wolff got hit as he attempted to hand off to John. I have no idea how John got the ball, much less how he ran it into the end zone."
But it counted, and that's all that mattered to Lyle/Wishram, which clung to a 16-14 lead deep into the second half.
The Loggers, however, appeared poised to retake the lead late in the fourth quarter after regaining possession with six minutes remaining. They kept the clock running while advancing the ball to Lyle/Wishram's 3-yard line with less than four minutes left.
Following a timeout, Wishkah tried to run left but defensive end Johnathan VanAhn stuffed the play and forced a fumble. The ball went through VanAhn's legs before Wishkah regained control.
On the next play the Loggers ran left again, with nearly the same result, except this time Matai rocked the runner and caused a fumble that he fell on at the 2 with two minutes to go.
Smith called for a "strong right toss" to Matai on first down. The workhorse back received the ball 2 yards deep in the end zone, took a hit by a defender but stayed on his feet as he worked his way back to the line of scrimmage and then popped outside.
"It felt like Henry was in the end zone for 30 seconds before I saw him get clear," Smith said. "I thought for sure they had a safety. But then I saw Henry running down the far sideline dragging players and then avoiding others" on his way to the end zone.
Smith surveyed the field to make sure there were no penalty flags, but knew the Cougars themselves weren't in the clear just yet, not after missing on the try for 2, then losing a fumble a series later while trying to run out the clock.
"Wishkah tried to pull out all the stops by using the `swinging gate' and other trick plays, but our players were flying to the ball at this point and were not going to be denied," Smith noted.
The Cougars forced the Loggers to turn the ball over on downs one last time, then kneeled twice to finish them off.
Lyle/Wishram (1-0, 1-2) entertains Lake Quinault (1-1, 1-2) tomorrow night in Lyle. Kickoff of the league game is set for 7.
The Cougars will be without starting lineman Billy Williams. The senior was injured early in last Saturday's game while covering up an onside kickoff attempt by Wishkah Valley.
"Billy went to the hospital, but he rode home on the bus with us and is hoping to rejoin the team in a couple weeks," Smith said.