POCATELLO — For such an unassuming frame, Gage Vasquez plays like something out of a Looney Toons cartoon. Firth’s 5-foot-4 quarterback is quick and shifty, fleet-footed and quick-thinking, but the genius to his game is that he always seems to have somewhere to go, even — and especially — when the play looks broken.
Take a play in the first quarter of Firth’s 45-8 win over Bear Lake Friday evening at Holt Arena. Vasquez dropped back to pass, felt a blitz descending on the pocket, flushed out, made a defender miss and — bam — shoveled a short pass to Sam Park. The play covered 14 yards, good for a first down.
No Bears seemed to lift their arms to the side in confusion, as if to say how do we cover that?, but nobody would have blamed them if they did.
“You never doubt he’s going to make something magical happen,” Park said.
“With Gage, it’s a luxury we have where if we have a broken play, that broken play can end up in a touchdown,” Firth coach Jordan Bartlett said.
This is how Firth wins: Let Vasquez engineer the offense and get the ball — via handoffs or passes — to skill players like Sam Park, Burton Park and Gage’s cousin, Alex Vasquez. The formula worked like a charm on Friday.
Sam Park shone the brightest, logging 17 carries for 214 yards and three touchdowns, ripping off eight rushes of 10-plus yards — including four that covered more than 20. Like Vasquez, Park is most effective on the ground, where he follows blockers, finds space and erupts with speed that most opponents can’t match.
All told, the Cougars racked up a whopping 324 yards on the ground in Friday’s win, which comes out to 9.8 yards per carry. That explains why Vazquez’s passing numbers — 7-for-8 for 92 yards and a score — look a tad underwhelming. Firth just didn’t need to pass.
That is hardly the most interesting part of Firth’s offensive attack, though. Consider this: Sam and Burton Park are cousins. So are Gage and Alex Vasquez. Offensive coordinator Maureseo Vasquez is Gage’s dad and Alex’s uncle. His other nephews are — just wait — Sam and Burton Park. Oh, and defensive coordinator Rigo Vasquez, Maureseo’s brother, is Gage’s uncle and Alex’s dad.
Your head might be spinning reading that. Just know this: Firth is so successful, in part, because so many coaches and players know each other so well. Several of them are literally blood relatives. “Family love going on,” Bartlett said.
For the Cougars, though, it’s more than some magical spell. They rack up hundreds of yards on the ground because they trust each other. They’ve played with each other long enough — since age 7 or 8, Park guessed — to know which plays they like in which spots. Maureseo has been there all along, so he has a feel for what to call and when.
Still, nepotism isn’t involved, the players say. Every practice involves competition.
“There’s nothing given,” Alex said. “It doesn’t matter if our dads are the coaches or anything. We still have to prove ourselves out on the field. So they don’t look at us as their sons. They look at us as their players. We have to work to get our spots.”
It’s not all roses, though. The Cougars play in Class 2A, which means they don’t have big numbers, and that forces players like Vasquez — both of them — and Park to play both ways. On Friday, when Bear Lake runners were dragged down for short yardage — the Bears averaged just three yards per carry — you knew about it. The PA rang out: Sam Park on the stop. Alex Vasquez with the tackle.
What keeps them going, at least in part, is how well they know each other. Coaches, too. They know they have the energy, the fuel. They just need to trust it. It gets tiring at times, they admit.
“But we’re well-conditioned,” Alex said. “Coach makes us well-conditioned.”
“Everybody is on the same page,” Gage said. “We’ve been working a lot with the linemen, making sure we know who to block. It worked out really well.”
For the Cougars who have relatives on the coaching staff, the hardest part about this whole equation may be something else entirely, something away from the field. For example: For Alex, on the field, dad is coach. At home, he’s dad. He’s getting used to it, he says.
Tucked away from the bustle unfolding outside the locker room, though, Gage smirked.
“When he can’t hear me,” Gage said, “I’ll call him dad.”
FIRTH 45, BEAR LAKE 8
Bear Lake 0 0 0 8 — 8
Firth 14 12 6 13 — 45
F — B. Park 11 rush (PAT no good), 10:22
F — S. Park 11 rush (2-pt good), 6:18
F — G. Vasquez 1 rush (PAT no good), 5:32
F — Jacobsen 6 pass from G. Vasquez (2-pt no good), 1:31
F — S. Park 28 rush (2-pt no good), 2:30
F — S. Park 48 rush (2-pt no good), 11:02
BL — Crane 3 pass from Neal (2-pt good), 6:17
F — B. Park 12 rush (PAT good), 0:54
RUSHING — Bear Lake: Matthews 15-39, Neal 6-18, Alleman 4-17, Shaul 1-4. Firth: S. Park 17-214, B. Park 10-97, G. Vasquez 5-9, Barber 2-4.
PASSING — Bear Lake: Neal 9-16-1 116. Firth: G. Vasquez 7-8-1 96.
RECEIVING — Bear Lake: Crane 4-60, Alleman 1-1, Beresford 2-18, Shaul 1-17, Garbett 1-20. Firth: A. Vasquez 3-41, B. Park 2-29, Jacobsen 3-51.