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Football: Columbia Falls scores late to beat Libby

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| October 5, 2009 12:00 AM

The sick feeling that results from deep disappointment hung in the air for players, coaches and fans Friday night. Columbia Falls had rallied late in the fourth quarter to steal a  22-21 victory over Libby in a key Northwestern A game for both teams.

The Loggers appeared to be on their way to a happy homecoming with an eight-point lead midway through the fourth. But then a series of mistakes caught up with the home squad and the Wildcats were able to capitalize.

“Offensively we moved the ball at times and we had some good execution,” Libby coach Neil Fuller said. “But Columbia Falls is a pretty good football team and we just came up a little short.”

Columbia Falls pulled to within 21-19 with 5:05 left on a 26-yard TD pass from Mitchell Wassam to Kaleb Johnson. Libby had the Wildcats backed up into a third-and-11 at one point during the drive but Columbia Falls converted on a 15-yard reception by Devyn Rocker. After Johnson’s TD, Libby was able to retain its lead by knocking down a two-point conversion pass.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tyler Troy returned the ball to the Libby 47 but it had to come all the way back to the 19 because of a blocking in the back penalty. The Loggers had missed out on a chance for good field position during a crucial part of the game. Columbia Falls forced Libby into a three-and-out and following a punt, set up shop 46 yards from taking the lead.

The Wildcats put together an impressive drive with yardage coming in big chunks. Columbia Falls got into a first-and-goal at the 7 only to see the Libby defense come alive again. John Woody was stopped for a one-yard gain and then Wassam threw an incomplete pass on a play that could’ve been called a fumble. On third down, Libby’s T.J. Benson tackled Kyle Howell for a two-yard loss to push the Wildcats back to the 8-yard line.

Not needing a touchdown, Columbia Falls lined up for a 25-yard field goal. Wassam connected with a high kick that easily split the uprights with just 54 seconds remaining.

Libby had one final chance to pull out the miracle win. On a third-and-five, Benson gained 26 yards on a pass from Kelly May. But then another mistake surfaced when the Loggers were hit with an intentional grounding penalty – 15 yards and loss of down. Libby ‘s QB had spiked the ball to stop the clock but he was not under center when receiving the snap. As such, the flags flew to back up Libby after the team had made it to the 38 with 23 seconds left.

Benson gained 21 yards on fourth down but it was still not enough and Columbia Falls could breathe a sigh of relief.

“We weren’t consistent offensively,” Fuller said. “We dropped a lot of passes. Kids that have been making plays for us dropped passes. We probably had four or five dropped balls tonight, maybe more. In a passing offense, you can’t drop balls like that.”

Benson was one of the few highlights for Libby’s offense. The Logger senior dazzled the crowd with seven catches for 228 yards and represented 93 percent of the team’s offensive yardage. Benson scored on touchdown receptions covering 54 yards in the first quarter and 91 yards in the third quarter. Libby’s other TD put the team up, 21-13, on a 1-yad run by Justin Thrailkill.

The passing offense mistakes took their toll.

“We just didn’t come through in several instances,” Fuller said. “Instead of maybe breaking a big play or getting a first down, we’re left with second-and-10, third-and-10.”

The Logger defense played well throughout. Troy had an interception, Adam Alsbury recovered a fumble and on special teams, Kyle Sweedman had a blocked punt to set up Libby’s go-ahead touchdown.

“Defensively, it was great to have Josiah Coker back,” Fuller said. “He played a heck of a game. He burns a lot of fire out there; he gets the other guys pumped up. He doesn’t say a whole lot, he just plays hard.”

In the early going, Libby’s Kaila Forster missed on a 31-yard field goal attempt. On the final play of the first quarter, Benson broke off on his 54-yard TD and the Loggers had broken through first.

Columbia Falls answered with a long drive capped with a 1-yard TD run on third down by Chris King. The Wildcats took the lead with just 32 seconds left in the half on a 19-yard TD pass from Wassam to Rocker.

Libby took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter on Benson’s second TD. The 91-yard play occurred on third-and-16 and once Benson turned the corner to the outside, he was gone.

The Loggers extended their lead to 21-13 after Sweedman’s block and Thrailkill’s TD run. Columbia Falls came right back with a 10-play drive capped with the Wassam to Johnson TD pass and that set up the intense late-game action.

“We scored 21 points; we should be able to win a football game with that,” Fuller said. “We had a few plays there when we needed catches … you just can’t do that consistently in a game like this and expect to win. You need to make those clutch catches.”

Libby’s running game was pretty much non-existent with a minus-5 yards on 18 attempts. The Wildcats outgained Libby in total yardage, 333-246.

The Loggers (0-2, 1-5) play host to Whitefish on Friday.