POCATELLO — Minds met and time froze on the east end of Holt Arena, just shy of the 25-yard line. Tyler Richins stood in the middle of a collection of his Sugar-Salem Diggers, the group ready to take the field, the same one that had just drawn within one of Weiser in double overtime of this 3A state championship game.

The play Richins drew up, he hoped, would complete a two-point conversion and secure a state championship, the Diggers’ fourth straight. It would unfold, he imagined, like this: Quarterback Daniel Neal would fake a handoff, roll out and hit sophomore running back Carson Harris in the end zone. Game over. Celebration. Promised land.

All of it went to plan, except the part that mattered most. Harris hauled in the pass, but Weiser senior Brett Spencer delivered a violent hit at the goal line. Harris hit the field inches short of the end zone. He put his hands over his head. Diggers collapsed around the field.

Richins conceived the dream around the 25. It ended at the 1. Sugar-Salem’s season turned to ash in a 34-33 double-overtime defeat to Weiser.

“We felt like they were going to stack the box, make it hard for us to run,” Richins said. “We thought, maybe with some play action, we could get a look out in the flat. And we did. We got what we were looking for. We just didn’t get in.”

The end brought the Diggers to tears, but only because they had done so much, come so close to four straight. Harris totaled 25 carries for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including the one to set up the two-point try. The Diggers trailed by seven with nine minutes left, so they picked off a pass and turned it into a touchdown, courtesy of Harris. The Wolverines blocked the PAT, though, which forced overtime.

In the extra session, Harris opened the scoring with ease, cruising in for an eight-yard touchdown rush. So the ball went to Weiser. The Wolverines matched it with a touchdown pass from Brett Spencer to Brock Spencer, a seven-yard connection that evened the game at 27-27.

So the second overtime started with Weiser, which got a four-yard touchdown rush from Willy Shirts, who totaled 14 carries for 36 yards and two scores. That’s when the ball went back to Sugar-Salem, when the Diggers’ quest for a four-peat sputtered to a halt.

“I thought we had it there at the end,” Harris said. “When I scored on the second play in overtime, I thought we had it right there. Then we got so close with defense. Sometimes stuff just doesn’t go our way.”

This will go down as one of the wilder games Sugar-Salem has played, let alone on the stage of a state title game. The Diggers faced a 13-0 hole before they climbed back into the game. It became 20-7 early in the third frame. To head into overtime, they needed an interception from Cooper Butikofer, a touchdown rush from Harris and a blocked PAT from the Wolverines.

Even in the fourth alone, Neal tossed a costly interception into the hands of Weiser’s Rylee Willet, who promptly fumbled it himself, and the Diggers recovered. Moments later, Harris tied the game on that short touchdown rush, and overtime followed.

“We had that refuse-to-lose mentality,” Richins said. “It’s never over until it’s over. Our kids don’t ever give up. Giving up is not an option for us. To their credit, they won the game. They won it outright. They deserve it. But we’re not just going to roll over and give it to somebody. We’ve put in too much time to just let it go out of our fingers like that.”

The Diggers didn’t do that. Instead, what they will have to do is find ways to appreciate a season that came one step short of the ultimate destination.

For Sugar-Salem, this one started in a nightmarish way. The Diggers dropped both of their first two games of the season, and at that point it was fair to wonder: Did something happen to Sugar-Salem? Are they in for a down year?

So naturally, all the Diggers did was rack up eight straight wins, securing another 3A District 6 title and securing a spot in the playoffs. There, Sugar-Salem opened with a win over Marsh Valley. Then the Diggers toppled Homedale — on the road. That led them back here, to Holt Arena, to defend their collection of championships.

If there’s something for Sugar-Salem to take solace in, though, it’s this: The play the team drew up to win its fourth straight title went to a sophomore. That play didn’t pan out. The future of Harris, the club feels, will.

“That means a lot,” Harris said. “To me, it just means that my players trust me. My coach trusts me. They just have a lot of trust in me in making plays.”

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.

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