NAMPA — Be it statewide print or national television, Donavon Estrada received a lot of attention this week.
The Blackfoot Broncos were definitely paying attention.
The Broncos came in looking to slow down the Nampa High quarterback in their 4A semifinal Friday, and it showed as Blackfoot advanced to the state championship game with an impressive 35-14 victory.
“Oh yes, we saw what he could do,’’ longtime Blackfoot coach Stan Buck said. “He is definitely capable of making big plays. We wanted to try and contain him as well as we could, and I think we did that.
“Our perimeter defense did an exceptional job containing him tonight. He can throw, he can run, he’s got great speed and quickness. I’m very proud of the way our defense responded tonight.’’
Buck and his staff had seen tape of Estrada’s postseason heroics (including Estrada’s highlight on ESPN’s “You Got Mossed’’ segment on Monday Night Football) and prepared all week. But all the practice in the world won’t do anyone any good if you don’t have the horses, and Buck’s got the horses this year. He’s got players on the defensive side of the ball — a defense that was only giving up 16.6 points per game during the Broncos’ 10-game win streak, dating back to a September loss to Wyoming perennial power, Star Valley.
“They put a lot of pressure on us. They’ve got solid, solid athletes on their defense, and they’ve got a lot of speed,’’ Nampa coach Dan Holtry said after accepting his program’s second straight third-place trophy and 8-4 record. “They were hitting the gaps and kept outside pressure going. They’re a very good defense.’’
Blackfoot (10-1) held Nampa’s offense in check early, forcing Estrada into two interceptions in the first half while holding the Nampa quarterback to 69 yards on the ground and 74 yards in the air to lead 14-7 at intermission.
“You don’t want an athlete like that to get going,’’ Buck said. “He’s a scary player. We did a nice job holding him down tonight.’’
In his last night in his Bulldogs No. 2 jersey, Estrada finished with 77 yards rushing and 154 yards passing, his last completion was a 50-yard scoring strike to Jace Mann. On the year, Estrada was responsible for 4,037 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Broncos’ offensive attack was clicking behind running back Teegan Thomas, who backed up his 149-yard effort last week against Minico with 224 yards and four touchdowns against the Bulldogs.
And this just five weeks coming off a broken wrist.
“We’re gelling at the right time offensively,’’ said Buck, whose program was coming off two straight losing seasons. “We were pretty banged up there for a while, but we’ve gotten healthy and it’s showed. We’re not one-dimensional.
“We missed Teegan. He means a lot to our program. He’s a tough, tough kid. He’s meant a lot to us this year.’’
“We knew they were balanced, but they’d run the ball well all year and they got healthy at the right time,’’ Holtry said.
Blackfoot quarterback Craig Young (8-of-14 passing, 157 yards) did keep Nampa honest, highlighted by a 74-yard strike in the first quarter on the way to a 14-0 lead before Estrada directed Nampa’s most impressive drive of the game, an 80-yard, 16-play drive with Zafeir Reyes’ 4-yard dive capping the possession to get Nampa to within one score at the half.
But Blackfoot never let the Bulldogs get any momentum in the second half. Behind the running of Thomas, the Broncos put together drives of 74, 57 and 60 yards to set up Saturday’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 state final.
“This isn’t what we wanted. We wanted to take another step this year, but I’m very proud of this senior group,’’ Holtry said. “These guys established something at Nampa High, they established a new culture here. I’m very grateful to them for that.’’
Blackfoot plays Kuna (12-0) next week at Holt Arena for the state championship. Kuna beat Middleton 70-34 in Friday's state semifinal.