Gabe Fuentes (left) covered up the onside kick to open the game against North Beach. Three plays later, the Indians scored their first touchdown.
Even the most ardent and loving fans of the Toledo Indians Football team had to be thinking that it is better to be lucky than good. With all of the post-season experience, even luck begets skill.
Such was the case with the Indians, who fumbled and stumbled, turned the ball over and were called for more penalties than a lot of felons, but still came up with a 21-14 WIAA quarter-final round victory over a bigger and scrappy team from North Beach.
"Yeah we got lucky today, we put the ball on the ground way too many times," said Toledo Head Coach Jeremy Thibault. "I think we had five turnovers and 12 penalties."
Luck, however, can manifest itself in winning ways. The Indians may have had five turnovers including four fumbles, but there were also several points when the ball hit the ground and found its way right back into friendly hands. Thibault has grown somewhat of a reputation as a riverboat gambler with onside kicks and he chose to try one on the opening kick.
Sure enough, in the thriving chaos that is an onside kick, Toledo's Gabe Fuentes found the ball in an open piece of real estate and pounced. Three plays later, the Indians were in the end zone with the first of three of Taylor Hicks' touchdowns.
Hicks has gained a lot of attention for his skills and production but the Hyaks kept him to his less-than-usual video game numbers in rushing, but he was still responsible for all three of the Toledo scores. This is an athlete that ran for 7 TDs and 393 yards rushing last week. He was held to a mere 146 yards on 29 carries and three TDs.
Yes, sarcasm ensues
Perhaps the play of the game, if not the year, occurred on a Hicks carry with 7:34 to go in the fourth quarter.
To set the scene, it should be made clear this drive, like many others in this game, was fraught with comedy and drama. Toledo was driving with the momentum of a tractor-trailer on I-5 when a triple-optioned Grant McEwen pass was intercepted on a 4th down play in the red zone. Consistent with the theme of the day, the ball was fumbled and re-fumbled by both teams until Austin Eaton made a clear recovery at the Hyak 39 yard line.
Ruling? Change of possession. Toledo ball; Fresh start, first and 10, with mighty momentum firmly in hand. If they could only finish a drive without turning the pigskin over.
The Indians marched right back down the field in six plays to place the ball inches from the goal line on 3rd down. The stout North Beach defense caught Taylor Hicks on the ensuing play and drove him all the way back to the seven yard line before they assumed that whistles would blow the play dead. Hicks assumed nothing, escaped the Hyak grasp and ran untouched into the end zone for Toledo's winning score.
"I crossed the goal line the first time," said Hicks who was sure that he had already crossed the plane of the end zone. "Then they pushed me back but nobody blew a whistle or called it dead so I turned and ran in."
"I thought Taylor Hicks played well and ran hard," said Coach Thibault as he handed out post-game compliments. "Dakota Robins ran hard and had several key conversions and made a bunch of big hits on defense. Grant McEwen was Grant, making things look easy! Gabe Fuentes was great, (he had) key catches and a couple huge tackles! Daniel Etchle had a huge tackle for loss or sack towards end of the game on 3rd down".
"I am super proud to be their coach," he added.
Toledo is now 11-1 on the season and will face Napavine at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon in the Tacoma Dome. Napavine gave the Indians their one loss earlier in the season and the Toledo players look forward to the rematch.
A large contingent of Toledo fans stand behind the Indian football team at Centralia High School during the WIAA Quarter Final match-up with North Beach on Saturday afternoon.