After Pocatello produced its first win on its own field, after the Thunder put the finishing touches on a 27-7 win over Twin Falls Friday night, Dave Spillett slung an arm around Ryken Echo Hawk. The head coach had a lot to be proud of: Echo Hawk bulldozed and finessed his way to an enormous game, the type he’s used to supplying for his club, and the hosts won big in large part thanks to his efforts.
In this moment, though, Spillett just wanted to make sure his running back was alright.
On one of Echo Hawk’s final runs of the night, which helped him total 156 yards and two touchdowns, he took a tackle from a Twin Falls lineman who looked like Goliath. He was hurting when things ended. Spillett suspects he’ll be OK, that he’s just banged up. Sometimes that’s the way it goes when you’re one of the best backs in the state.
“It’s tough to get used to what he does,” Spillett said of Echo Hawk. “He did the things that he did tonight, he did it last year as well, but his vision and speed and power — it’s just a tough combination. He’s able to make guys miss in such small spaces and then pull away from them. He put together some impressive runs tonight.”
That much was obvious to anyone watching the game, anyone who made their way to Lookout Credit Union for Pocatello’s first game at the venue. It added up to an occasion: The Thunder’s first game at their own field, the first one they’ve ever had to themselves, and it was homecoming. To Spillett, who might hate distractions more than Batman hates the Joker, it felt worrisome. How would his team handle this, the new field and homecoming and an opponent that would give them more of a test than they faced last week?
On Friday night, some time passed before Spillett felt his nerves soothe. Twin Falls scored on its first series, moving the ball with ease. The Bruins took an early lead. Pocatello matched it when quarterback Dre Contreras rolled out, threw across his body and lasered a bullet to Alex Wynn in the end zone — but could the hosts keep their guests at bay?
Before long, Poky answered those questions with an energetic yes. Contreras completed 13 of 23 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns — plus three interceptions, which we’ll address in a bit — Echo Hawk posted touchdown runs of 42 and 20 yards and, after Twin Falls scored that opening touchdown, the Thunder’s defense blanked the Bruins the rest of the way.
It felt like a movie with a confusing opening scene. Wait, what’s going on here? How is this gonna go? Then you recognize Bruce Willis. Oh, this is an action movie.
“This one has just been overwhelming for a lot of people,” Spillett said. “We’re finally at our home field, we finally have an actual homecoming. So it’s been exciting all week. Our guys have stayed really focused, and that showed. I’m really proud of the way our guys played tonight.”
We can’t go much farther without mentioning Echo Hawk. He looked like, well, Ryken Echo Hawk. He showed dizzying speed, wise vision, quick cuts and, oh man, the jukes. That’s one of the more impressive parts of his game: When he makes guys miss, you notice. He punishes overeager defenders by slamming on the brakes and slow defenders by racing past them.
Thing is, he doesn’t always have to make guys miss entirely. On a few occasions Friday night, he made moves in space, but Twin Falls defenders found ways to hang on with a finger or two — but Echo Hawk kept running. That’s where his strength comes in. He’s fast enough to deliver the moves, and strong enough to keep going when they don’t work to perfection.
What Spillett likes most about his game this year, though, doesn’t have much to do with those.
“His role as a leader has really impressed me,” Spillett said. “He’s done a great job with the football stuff, the non-football stuff. Really proud of the way he’s leading our football team. He’s really grown as a leader.”
When Echo Hawk lines up in the backfield with Contreras, Poky’s new starting quarterback, the Thunder harbor one of the area’s most dangerous tandems. That was easy to notice in a few spots — like the 27-yard, parabola touchdown pass Contreras unfurled to Krue Hales in the first quarter — but harder in others. The junior signal-caller also tossed three picks, one of which looked particularly bad, a pass right to Twin Falls linebacker Zach Beem.
That made Contreras’ outing a little difficult to evaluate: Early on, he looked magnificent, unleashing throws that you’re more likely to see on Saturday afternoons than Friday nights. But he also tossed three interceptions.
“He’ll regret those,” Spillett said. “We came back and watched those here on the sideline afterwards, and it was just a couple bad decisions. And when you make bad decisions, sometimes bad things happen, and they caught us in some bad decisions. That’s not who he’s gonna be very often. He makes a lot of good reads and get the ball to the right people.”
In other words, Spillet isn’t worried about his quarterback. He isn’t worried about his running back either. Ahead of Pocatello’s next game, a matchup with rival Highland, there are worse places to be.
POCATELLO 27, TWIN FALLS 27
Twin Falls 7 0 0 0 — 7
Pocatello 13 7 7 0 — 27
TF — Crum 13 pass to Carter (PAT good), 8:06
P — Winn 9 pass from Contreras (PAT good), 4:45
P — Hales 27 pass from Contreras (PAT no good), 0:13
P — Echo Hawk 42 rush (PAT good), 8:06
P — Echo Hawk 20 rush (PAT good)
RUSHING — Pocatello: Echo Hawk 17-156, Beckles 12-45, Contreras 2-13, Williams 2-9.
PASSING — Pocatello: Contreras 13-23-159 2.
RECEIVING — Pocatello: Hales 3-53, Wynn 5-30, Smith 1-6, Applington 1-2, Crittenden 1-10, Christensen 1-25,