Shelley comes up short against Fruitland in state semifinals

By Michael Guise, mguise@journalnet.com

FRUITLAND — For the second consecutive season, Shelley stood at the 40-yard line across from Fruitland.

Some Russets were bent over in dismay while others crouched down with tears streaming down their faces. The Grizzlies did not have trouble standing, just like last year. On Saturday at Fruitland, the Russets came up short, again.

Almost exactly a year ago, Shelley lost to Fruitland in the 3A state championship game. The Russets fell 19-14 in the 3A state playoff semifinals.

Shelley dug itself too deep of a hole to get out of Saturday. The Russets’ comeback came up short, sending the team home with a third-place trophy.

“We want what is best for our kids,” Shelley coach Jake Monahan said. “We want our kids to win. We’ve been with them all year. You get to know them and develop relationships. You get upset when they don’t win. It’s not how you want to end.”

Fruitland led 13-0 at halftime and 19-0 with 5 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter after a 1-yard touchdown run by Jordan Eggers put the Grizzlies firmly ahead. Shelley rallied with a touchdown in the third quarter and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but could not keep Fruitland from running out the clock.

After Peyton Whitaker scored a 1-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal with 2:48 left in the final quarter to bring Shelley within 19-14, the Russets failed their onside kick attempt, and Fruitland iced its win with a pair of first downs.

After struggling to find progress in the final half of the game, Fruitland ran the ball five times for 19 yards on its final drive to earn a state title berth for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.

“That’s a good football team,” Monahan said. “You can’t make mistakes against them.”

Fruitland tallied 42 yards of offense in the second half and turned the ball over twice. The Russets stonewalled the Grizzlies’ run-heavy offense over the final 24 minutes, allowing the Russets’ offense to creep back into the game.

Shelley scored its first touchdown of the game on an 89-yard pass from Jake Wray to Wyatt Remington, who galloped nearly 70 yards down the sideline into the end zone. It was a turning point in the game, as the Grizzlies could not put the Russets away.

But Shelley never made the home team pay. The Russets failed a fourth-down-and-goal situation from the 2-yard line with just under 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Russets scored their final touchdown on their next possession after a Fruitland fumble set them up in the red zone.

The Russets had the momentum in the second half, but their slow start put them too far behind. Shelley fumbled the ball away on three of its first four possessions of the game.

The miscues did not allow the Russets to find their footing, as they finished with 56 yards of offense in the first half and minus-10 yards of offense on their first three possessions of the second half. Shelley also had a botched punt attempt on its second possession of the second half, which set up Eggers’ touchdown run.

“We had too many turnovers in that first half,” Monahan said. “It makes it hard on our offense when you’re a rhythm offense. You have to be in a groove, and it’s hard to call plays because we were out of rhythm. I’m sure it was hard on the players to play. We just couldn’t keep the ball in our possession.”

It was a valiant defensive effort from Shelley, which regrouped at halftime after allowing Fruitland to total 205 yards of offense, 184 of which came on the ground. Saturday was the second time this season the Grizzlies did not score at least 30 points. They were also held to 3.2 yards per rush.

“To hold them to 19 points, I feel like we played them just as well as anybody,” Monahan said. “We just needed to get more on offense to help our defense.”

Wray finished the game with 178 yards passing, while wide receiver Mason Price had seven catches for 28 yards in his final game at Shelley. Remington led the team with three catches for 117 yards.

Shelley ended its season with disappointment for the second year in a row, but the team returns 16 seniors-to-be for next season’s team that will play in 4A. The Russets are reclassifying, but their expectations will remain the same.

“You want a blue trophy,” Monahan said. “That is what it is like to play at Shelley. Expectations are high. I wouldn’t want to operate in different circumstances from that.”