POCATELLO — The Sugar-Salem football team may have fumbled twice during their first two offensive drives Saturday, but they didn’t fumble the opportunity.
The Diggers are heading to the 3A state championship for the first time in 30 years after beating the Kimberly Bulldogs, 56-27, Saturday in Holt Arena.
It’s the first time since 1988 the program has played for a state championship, per coach Tyler Richins, as Sugar-Salem will play Homedale next week in the Treasure Valley.
“We’re trying to put this program in a place where year after year after year be successful and I feel like we’re getting there,” Richins said. “We’re getting to that place where that buy in and that culture and everything we want in our football program is there. And it’s been a process, but we got great fans, great administration and great kids and support in our community.”
Yes, Sam Parkinson fumbled on back-to-back drives for the Diggers to open Saturday’s 3A semifinal game, but the junior would eventually redeem himself by helping Sugar-Salem jump out to a 28-14 lead at half. Parkinson scored on a 1-yard run with 3:50 left in the second, eventually joining an eight-man committee backfield that gashed Kimberly for 302 yards.
The fumbles set the Diggers’ defense back in their own redzone, but in arguably their biggest win in three decades, they didn’t bend. Two redzone trips ended with zero points for Kimberly, as Sugar-Salem never trailed Saturday.
“We played lights out both on defense, I mean our goal this game was to hold ‘em to 20 points, we didn’t quite do that, but we held them low enough where our offense was able to have enough success to overcome,” senior linebacker Brady Blaser said.
Sugar-Salem held Kimberly’s uptempo, no-huddle offense to just one offensive touchdown in the first half, as Tanner Harris rushed for one score and found Hadley Miller, Ethan Warner and Gerohm Rihari for three other touchdowns Saturday.
For Kimberly, the Bulldogs were held to 368 total yards (328 from the air), as quarterback Braxton Hammond threw one touchdown and three picks. Harris — who’s thrown just one pick all year heading into Saturday — finished 11 for 13 from the pocket for 315 yards and three touchdowns. He threw one pick.
“We are all so hungry for the ball,” Blaser said. “There’s no doubt that all of us want to be on every single tackle.”
Save for a 102-yard interception return with 35 seconds left in the half by Kimberly’s Blake Phillips, Sugar-Salem capitalized on early turnovers (a kickoff fumble and Rihari interception) to jump out to a 21-point lead.
Kimberly would hang around Saturday thanks to two, short touchdown runs by Brant Etherington.
But for every score the Bulldogs conducted, the Diggers responded.
During the opening third quarter drive, Browning Bennion ripped the ball from Kimberly running back McKade Huft for a 75-yard touchdown. Etherington scored next for the Bulldogs. The Diggers responded a 1:30 seconds later with a 74-yard pass from Harris to Warner.
And after Kimberly finished the third quarter with a Hammond 46-yard pass, Sugar-Salem scored 14-unanswered points during the fourth.
The Diggers never allowed the Bulldogs to get closer than 14 points, as they out gained their 3A semifinal foe 617-328. Sugar-Salem out gained Kimberly on the ground, 302-40.
“I’m just proud of the boys,” Richins said. “I’m proud of their hard work and dedication and everything they’ve put in, in the weight room and in the offseason and camps and coming in early. We’re still busting in the weight room now and that pays off when you’re four quarters in a battle like this.”
As the starters rested in the waning moments, Richins was dumped with water in celebratory fashion. The players embraced each other.
Rihari called Saturday’s win “the greatest moment of his life”.
“Best moment of my life. I’ve worked so hard for this moment. Ever since fourth grade, ya know, we’ve been out here grinding,” said Rihari, who after transferring from Bonneville and playing through a broken hand earlier this fall, is reaping the fruits of Sugar-Salem’s labor.
“We’re going all the way. It’s not over. We’re getting that ring,” Rihari added.