FIRTH – When a team is facing its first conference game of the year, there are a lot of expectations that can be fulfilled or dashed on the rocks. Either way that it goes, it will be a growing experience for a young team.
That was the case when the Firth Cougars welcomed the West Jefferson Panthers to town on Wednesday evening. It was the conference opener for both teams and they came to the game from different points in their seasons.
West Jefferson was 6-3 entering the game and had won three straight games. They are the more experienced team and started four seniors. That should have been a huge advantage against the young Cougars.
As the game unfolded, it was quickly apparent that the Cougars were not going to just give the game to the Panthers. They established a quick tempo right from the beginning and at times employed a full-court press to force the issue.
Both teams exhibited solid defense from the start, but the game was being played the way that Firth wanted.
At the end of the first eight minutes, the Cougars had used six points from Athan Blonquist to establish an 11-10 lead.
The second quarter was much the same as it unfolded. The Panthers began to find the range from the three-point arc, which kept them close, but the Cougars’ defense and pressure allowed them to slowly build a lead. With Blonquist and his buddies controlling the boards, and the rest of the team on the fast break whenever possible, the lead grew. First it was one, then three, then six and when the two teams left the floor for at halftime, Firth had an eight-point lead at 23-15.
The problem with an eight-point lead is that it only takes a couple of shots to close the gap in a hurry and that is what transpired in the first couple of minutes of the third quarter. West Jefferson’s Braeden Larsen and Peyson Calaway both connected from downtown and when Larsen added a two-point bucket, the lead was suddenly down to a single point and the game was on.
“We have been learning how to handle adversity all year long,” Firth coach Scott Adams said. “When they made their run, we responded in a positive way and showed that we have learned that aspect of the game. The kids played hard all night and they earned this win.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Cougars had built their lead back up to seven points at 31-24 and the two teams became more physical in their play.
The two Larsen twins, Braeden and Landen, both hit threes to keep the Panthers close and the Cougars missed a couple of put-backs that aided the Panthers’ cause.
Soon the game was back and forth, with each team taking their turn holding the lead. As the game entered the final minute of play, the two teams were tied at 43. The Cougars had a couple of attempts at seizing the lead outright and failed as the clock continued to wind down.
With the clock inside of 10 seconds when a Firth shot went up, Athan Blonquist grabbed the rebound and went back up with a shot. He was fouled on the attempt and went to the free throw line with 3.2 seconds remaining and two shots at getting the lead for the Cougars.
The first shot bounced away harmlessly, but the second went through, giving Firth the one-point lead at 44-43 and it held up for the win.
With the win, the Cougars open play in the Nuclear Conference with a 1-0 record and move their season record to 4-6. North Fremont is also 1-0 in conference play and will face the Cougars next week.
Before that game happens, the Cougars tangled with Salmon on Saturday.
FIRTH 44, WEST JEFFERSON 43
West Jefferson 10 5 9 19 — 43
Firth 11 12 8 13 — 44
WEST JEFFERSON — Jael Garcia 4, Braeden Larsen 14, Landen Larsen 7, Kyson Gabrish 4, Branson Morton 9, Peyson Calaway 5.
FIRTH — Kaden Arave 5,Canon Carpenter 4, Austin Jacobsen 5, Michael Crider 3, Taedyn Jacobsen 8, Jace Erickson 10, Athan Blonquist 9.