Big plays aren’t enough for Beavers in two-point loss to Zillah


TENINO — The Tenino football team brought the fireworks out for its home opener in Stone City on Saturday, but for the second straight week, the Beavers came up just short, losing 34-32 to Zillah in a non-league matchup.

“That was a tough one,” first-year coach Darren Tinnerstet said. “We got behind the 8-ball a bit, turned the ball on the goal line, a bunch of calls didn’t go our way. But that’s going to happen in a football game. That’s a good team we just went toe-to-toe with. I’m not disappointed by that whatsoever. The kids are disappointed, but we got better from last week.”

After starting the season off at Colville, the Beavers (0-2) gave their home crowd a first look at the new-look Tenino offense, and started loud. Three plays in, Cody Strawn — who missed the first game rehabbing an injury — rolled left and hit Cody Strawn for a 64-yard touchdown.

Zillah fumbled the ball away on its first possession, and Tenino took advantage of the short field with some trickery when Gonia took his turn to throw the ball off a jet sweep, and found Jack Burkhardt in the end zone.

That’s how the offense went just about the whole afternoon for Tenino; Burkhardt finished with five catches for 152 yards, and Gonia caught four balls for 127. 

All five of Tenino’s touchdowns came through the air, and Gonia’s trick play to Burkhardt was the only one shorter than 20 yards.

“I think the players have bought in,” Tinnerstet said. “They see that we’re getting the ball into our playmakers’ hands. As a coach, that’s all you try to do.”

Strawn, meanwhile, finished 9 for 13 for 288 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.

“Cody had a phenomenal night throwing the ball, in his first game back in a new system,” Tinnerstet said.

The issue on offense came not on getting the ball into the end zone, but what came after. Following the first touchdown of the day, the Beavers lined up Michael Vassar in the wildcat and let him plow in for a two-point conversion. After that, though, Tenino missed two extra points, before failing to convert two more two-point tries.

Tenino’s final touchdown came with the Beavers trailing 34-28, when Strawn threw to Vassar for a 21-yard screen. Tinnerstet sent the wildcat package back out, but this time, the Leopards stopped Vassar short.

“He’s a tough back to stop short-yardage,” Tinnerstet said. “We talked as a staff, and we felt like we needed 3 yards and that gave us the best shot to do it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But if I had to do it again, I’d run the same play.”

On the other side of the ball, Tenino did a decent job of avoiding the big play, but simply couldn’t get the Zillah offense off the field.The Leopards went 5 for 7 on third downs in the second half, but picked up the other two on fourth down, and finished the afternoon with five fourth-down conversions.

And when the Beavers did make a play, as often as not it got whistled away. The refs threw 12 flags on Tenino, nearly all of which were of the 15-yard variety. Seven came in a row on a decisive swing midway through the second quarter, when the Beavers got flagged for two offsides calls, a late pass interference, and an unexplained personal foul, with a sideline warning and subsequent personal foul on Tinnestet’s staff, followed by another one on the parents on the track. The span took the ball from the 42-yard line to the 5, and the Leopards plunged it in on the next play to get within a touchdown.

“We weren’t getting communication very well from the officials,” Tinnerstet said. “That was the problem. We were getting some penalties, but I wasn’t sure what the actual penalty was. I’ve got to be able to fix it with my guys. We got it ironed out, and it was a little cleaner in the second half. It was a challenging officiating crew on this one. I don’t know if this was a new crew or what was going on, but there were some holes.”

The Leopards didn’t slow down after the break, scoring their three drives in the second half before taking over with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter following Vassar’s touchdown and winding the rest of the clock on a 13-play drive.

Tenino will get back at it on the road next week, at Klahowya.