POCATELLO — Down 14-0 after two big-play Twin Falls touchdowns over the final six minutes of the first quarter, it felt like the Pocatello Indians were on the verge of letting the game get away from them and ruining all the good feelings they had built up after a season-opening win over Madison a week ago.
Instead, the Indians calmly regrouped, fought back to take a 17-14 lead at halftime and then controlled the second half for a 27-14 win at Highland’s Iron Horse Stadium on Friday night.
“After that first quarter, we just all agreed we were done with that,” Pocatello linebacker Hunter Killian said. “We started battling back. After those first two touchdowns, nobody really hung their head. It was just a little quiet. Nobody thought we were out of this game, we just knew that we had to bear down and do even better.”
Once again, the story of the game was Pocatello’s defense. After forcing five turnovers against Madison in Week 1, the Indians came up with three more against Twin Falls, and also forced the Bruins to turn the ball over on downs on each of their last three drives.
The first Pocatello takeaway was probably the most important.
Down 14-0 after Twin Falls struck first with a 75-yard screen pass for a touchdown and then an 80-yard fumble return for another score, Poky’s offense finally got on the board early in the second quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Kade Jensen.
Two plays later, a big hit on another screen pass forced a Twin Falls fumble, and Hayden Good recovered for Pocatello on the Bruins’ 17-yard line.
“The defense is flying around,” Pocatello coach Dave Spillett said. “It’s a bunch of playmakers, and they’re aggressive and don’t play scared. We encourage them, if you see a chance to go take one, go take one, and play fast. ... They’re hitting, they’re trusting if they go after something and miss, there’s going to be somebody right there behind them to cover up for them, and that’s why I think you’re seeing them play so free and create so many turnovers.”
The Indians needed some good fortune to turn the short field into points — a pass interference call wiped out a 100-yard pick-six by Twin Falls’ Iradukunda Emery — but Keon Woods eventually sliced up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown run to make it 14-9 after the extra point was missed.
Pocatello recovered another fumble on Twin Falls’ next possession, stopping a Bruins’ drive inside the 30.
The Indians then went ahead with 30 seconds to go until halftime when Ryan Payne scored from a yard out to finish off a drive that was keyed by a 41-yard completion from Zach Park to Matt Christensen.
After struggling on the ground in the first half, Pocatello leaned on the run game coming out of halftime, putting together a 12-play drive that took nearly six minutes and ended in a 24-yard field goal by Jensen.
“Up front offensively, we weren’t great in the first half,” Spillett said. “We had a hard time with some of the stuff they were throwing at us, the pressures. We fixed that, and we were able to rattle off a bunch of points.”
Killian intercepted Twin Falls quarterback Nicholas Swensen on the next drive, but Pocatello couldn’t turn the short field into points this time when Park fumbled.
Up 20-14, the Indians had to fend off one more Twin Falls comeback attempt early in the fourth quarter when the Bruins drove inside the Pocatello 30 once again, but the defensive line stood strong on third and 3 before Twin Falls dropped a pass on fourth and 1.
Six plays later, Pocatello’s freshman running back Ryken Echohawk took a sweep 48 yards to the house, finally giving the Indians the insurance score they needed and all but ending the game with 6:35 left to play.
“It didn’t look great at the beginning, but it was a really good finish, and I’m proud of the guys for staying true to who they are,” Spillett said. “They believe in each other, and they have a lot of confidence and swagger. Even when things weren’t going our way, they believed in each other, and that’s a big deal for us.”