Lewiston hasn’t been favored by fortune much this season.
So the Bengals felt they’d finally caught a break when it was revealed early Saturday that all they needed was a win to sneak in as one of the two final berths to the Class 5A football playoffs.
Despite entering the day a game under .500, having played out a shuffled-around schedule with multiple injuries to key players, Lewiston could return to State with a victory against an Inland Empire League foe it’d already topped once this year, Lake City.
But as fate would have it, the Bengals were afflicted once again — and immediately — by adverse circumstances during an agonizing, season-ending 36-12 loss at a bone-chilling Bengal Field on senior day.
Star Lewiston quarterback Kash Lang broke a bone in his left hand on the first play from scrimmage, and two-way standout Joel Brume exited with a knee injury not long after to put the Bengals (3-6, 0-3) behind the 8-ball.
“That hurt us,” Lewiston coach Matt Pancheri said.
Still, Lewiston owned a 12-6 advantage at halftime.
Junior backup signal-caller Jace McKarcher, also a starting cornerback, assembled a settled first half, scoring twice on long series to hand the edge to the Bengals, whose defense had stuffed the Timberwolves’ potent offense by walling off its rushing lanes.
After intermission, Lake City (3-5, 1-2) spread the field more, sent blitzes like mad and pounced on Lewiston miscues — a number of giveaways, untimely penalties and four Bengal possessions that lasted five snaps or fewer.
“We saw things we needed to attack, so we made some adjustments and found different ways to get the ball to a couple guys,” said Lake City coach Brian Fulp, whose Coeur d’Alene-based team also will miss the postseason.
The Timberwolves’ surge of 30 unanswered second-half points was highlighted by a 53-yard pick-6 from Matthew Whitcomb, who jumped a short route on the far sideline to stretch Lake City’s lead to 10 at the 2:36 mark of the third.
An ensuing turnover on downs provided Lake City a short field, and 6-foot-4 receiver Zach Johnson tallied the second of his three scores with a high-point grab in the back corner of the end zone.
“How about him? Not bad for a sophomore,” Fulp said.
A pair of mistakes, a couple of explosive plays, and the contest quickly had gone from in reach to unmanageable.
“It’s about assignment football,” Fulp said of his defense. “In the first half, we were chasing a little bit. We weren’t reading our keys.”
A Bengal three-and-out followed to open the fourth, and Lake City went deep into its playbook, pulling out a double-reverse to Johnson. He soared from 68 yards out to establish the final margin.
“That was the best game we’ve played this season,” said Johnson, who opened scoring with a 29-yard grab on a post route, and added a goal-line interception that put a cap on the second quarter, and Lewiston’s scoring.
“Our offense has played well, and the defense has too on different occasions, but it hasn’t really mixed. That was our first true, complete game.”
Besides Johnson’s game-breaking carry, Lewiston held Lake City to 15 yards rushing.
Johnson finished with 151 yards of total offense, Whitcomb added a leaping, 18-yard touchdown catch in traffic to kick off the third and senior quarterback Chris Irvin was 15-of-25 passing for 223 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Lang, still playing safety with a club cast on his hand, cut off a crossing route in the end zone for the pick to halt a long Lake City drive midway through the third, which included a fourth-and-long conversion on a fake-punt pass.
“You gotta love him. He’s tough,” Pancheri said of the senior.
McKarcher, relieving Lang on offense, struggled to find his touch through the air, tossing four interceptions on 15-of-29 passing with 115 yards. Jared Grainger and Devin Zagelow combined for 89 yards on 12 receptions.
McKarcher shouldered the load on the ground, running for 111 yards on an eye-popping 42 attempts. Fullback Elliott Taylor (27 yards) appeared to still be affected by a previous back injury, and senior back Brume was out before the first had ended.
“I don’t recall him playing a snap (at quarterback) this year, a 2-point conversion maybe,” Pancheri said of McKarcher. “Good on him to step up like that. He was super tough. He was running for his life, played a super physical football game and still had to play corner.”
McKarcher finished a 10-play scoring drive with an 8-yard lofted ball to Grainger off a broken play that saw the quarterback scramble left, right, then find a window. But Grainger and Brume collided after the catch, and Brume did not return.
The Bengals failed to produce points on back-to-back second-quarter takeaways — a fumble recovery in a scrum and a muffed punt. A fourth-quarter strip-sack by linebacker Shadryn Goeckner led to naught as well.
In all, Lewiston outgained Lake City 327-306, but ran about 90 plays — double the T-wolves' total. The Bengals, who certainly moved the ball, could never quite put a complete second-half series together, and were stung defensively by chunk gains.
It was a gut-wrenching end to a topsy-turvy season, to be sure, yet Pancheri could find some positives in reflection.
“I loved the fact that our team didn’t quit in a football game,” he said. “Our kids kept playing hard all the time, regardless of how adverse the conditions were. And believe me, we had some adverse conditions throughout the year. You know, the coronavirus, freaking smoke, snow — I don’t care what it was. We had a lot of injuries this year to key guys, and they just kept coming and playing hard. I’m super proud of that.”
Lake City 6 0 22 8—36
Lewiston 6 6 0 0—12
Lake City — Zach Johnson 29 pass from Chris Irvin (kick failed).
Lewiston — Jared Grainger 8 pass from Jace McKarcher (run failed).
Lewiston — McKarcher 5 run (run failed).
Lake City — Matthew Whitcomb 18 pass from Irvin (Irvin run).
Lake City — Whitcomb 53 interception return (Damon Rosenau pass from Irvin).
Lake City — Johnson 6 pass from Irvin (pass failed).
Lake City — Johnson 68 run (Rosenau pass from Irvin).
RUSHING — Lake City: Zach Johnson 1-68, Xander Webb 9-9, Chris Irvin 3-5, Kyrus Condon 2-3, Porter Howard 1-(-2). Lewiston: Jace McKarcher 42-111, Joel Brume 8-37, Kayden Laferriere 2-33, Elliott Taylor 8-27, Kash Lang 1-4, James White 1-0.
PASSING — Lake City: Irvin 15-25-1—223, Matthew Whitcomb 1-1-0—26. Lewiston: McKarcher 15-29-4—115, Brume 0-1-0—0.
RECEIVING — Lake City: Johnson 4-83, Webb 5-60, Whitcomb 3-42, Dante Hardin 2-32, Jace Bowman 1-26, Damon Rosenau 1-6. Lewiston: Jared Grainger 6-55, Devin Zagelow 6-34, Laferriere 1-13, White 1-10, Taylor 1-3.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.