Seven days ago, minutes after his team dropped a blowout loss to Skyline, Thunder Ridge coach Jeff Marshall stood outside the visitor’s locker room at Ravsten Stadium. The Titans had just slogged through a disastrous third quarter, which was largely to blame for the loss, but Marshall pointed something out.
“I was real happy with our defensive play in the first half,” Marshall said. “It was the best that we’ve played this year.”
On Friday, after Thunder Ridge registered its first win of the season with a 35-7 home victory over Idaho Falls, Marshall had to update that statement.
“This is the best that the defense has played, no doubt about it,” Marshall said. “The consistency (impressed me), honestly. Pretty consistent.”
Thunder Ridge’s defense tallied three interceptions, four sacks and had no trouble with bad field position, climbing out of bad spots by nabbing turnovers through the air and on downs. Carter Jardine, Max Whitehouse and Parker Norman — the last two on back-to-back possessions — intercepted passes for the Titans, who permitted just 267 yards of offense.
The one mistake Thunder Ridge made on defense — the most noticeable, at least — came when Idaho Falls running back Kyan Jesperson opened the second half with a 61-yard touchdown rush, which trimmed Thunder Ridge’s lead to 21-7.
From there, though, it was all Titans.
One of the biggest reasons for that: Kaysen Isom. Thunder Ridge’s versatile senior, posted 21 carries for 230 yards and three touchdowns, plus two receptions for 48 yards. His touchdowns came on rushes of 3, 45 and 8 yards. Like his team’s defense, Isom was, well, consistent.
Not that he took any of the credit for it.
“It was really just the offensive line,” Isom said. “We’ve been working hard this last week in practice, preparing for our homecoming game. We had a heck of a crowd. They came out and cheered us on, and that led us to victory.”
In fairness, Thunder Ridge’s defense had plenty to do with that. The Titans got steady pressure on Tiger quarterback Skyler Olsen, who completed just 13 of 29 passes for 136 yards and those three interceptions.
That Thunder Ridge disarmed Idaho Falls’ offense when the Tigers were in best position to score says a lot about the Titans’ secondary.
Late in the first half, Thunder Ridge quarterback Tao Johnson tossed an interception and Idaho Falls took over on offense. The Tigers, at the Titans’ 36, had great field position. They had a chance to score and enter halftime down just two touchdowns.
Never happened. The Titans forced a fourth-down incompletion on the sideline, heading into the intermission with a 21-0 lead.
They rarely let up from there.
“We hit hard,” Isom said. “Our DBs, they cover some good D. They don’t let many guys behind them. Our D-line, they push through and we get in the backfield and get that quarterback.”
Speaking of Isom, he’s a big reason the first half belonged — in near entirety — to Thunder Ridge.
The Titans scored on their first series of the game, covering 42 yards in six plays, capped by a three-yard touchdown rush from Isom.
Two drives later, Thunder Ridge did it again. This time, Isom took a handoff, sprinted to his right and made a few guys miss. Then, he cut all the way back to the left, angling away from pursuing Tigers 45 yards into the end zone.
A few seconds later, he jogged out for the PAT and handed Thunder Ridge a 14-0 lead.
It only grew.
With the win, Thunder Ridge can enter its upcoming bye week with some momentum. The Titans don’t return to action until Sept. 25, when they’ll visit Rigby.
Idaho Falls doesn’t have that luxury. The Tigers, still searching for their first win of the season, will host Century next Friday.
Either way, though, Isom agreed with Marshall.
This was the team’s premier showing of the year.
“I think tonight was the best,” Isom said. “We balled out tonight.”
THUNDER RIDGE 35, IDAHO FALLS 7
TR 14 7 7 7 — 35
IF 0 0 7 0 — 7
TR — Isom 3 rush (Driggs kick), 10:01
TR — Isom 45 rush (Driggs kick), 3:09
TR — Driggs 38 pass from Johnson (Driggs kick), 2:51
IF — Jesperson 61 rush (Miller kick), 11:40
TR — Isom 8 rush (Driggs kick), 2:51
TR — Briggs 2 rush (Driggs kick), 0:56
RUSHING — Idaho Falls: Olsen 8 -5, Jesperson 10-112, Moore 6-24. Thunder Ridge: Isom 21-230, Driggs 3-24, Oswald 2-15, Johnson 5-15, Fitzgerald 1 -1, Briggs 1-2.
PASSING — Idaho Falls: Olsen 13-29-3 136. Thunder Ridge: Johnson 8-11-1 118.
RECEIVING — Idaho Falls: Jesperson 2-45, Elison 1-8, Miller 6-49, Baker 3-21, Thompson 1-13. Thunder Ridge: Isom 2-48, Johnson 1-10, Driggs 3-60, Fitzgerald 1-3.