WENATCHEE – When you’re a fan of a team who plays in a league with only four teams that all make the playoffs, the postseason equation is pretty simple – win two games and win the championship.
For the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks, the mission in round one of that easy formula was to amass more points on the scoreboard than the Reno Express at the end of 60 minutes on Sunday night at the Town Toyota Center – something the Skyhawks had already done twice in three games played earlier this season.
After the opening kickoff, the Express defense left the station all fired up and had the normally high-flying Wenatchee offense largely eating turf for much of the game’s first 15 minutes.
After two empty possessions from their O, it was Wenatchee’s own defense that registered the opening points of the contest, when 6’5”, 270-pound Gabriel Collins barreled through the Reno line and tackled running back Davon Nelson in the end zone for a safety, giving the Skyhawks a 2-0 lead with only 74 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Trapping the Express in their end zone seemed to finally point Wenatchee in the direction of Reno’s goal line, as the Skyhawks needed only three plays on the ensuing change of possession, for quarterback Jarvis Alston to find wide-out Davonte Solomon on a 43-yard touchdown bomb which upped Wenatchee’s advantage to 9-0 in the opening stages of quarter number two.
But any thoughts the Skyhawks had of running away with an easy victory like a cheetah flanking down a hobbled gazelle were quickly snuffed out by Express quarterback DeAndrea Churchill, whose 36-yard improvisational dash on Reno’s first play from scrimmage on their very next drive cut the Wenatchee lead to only one (at 9-8).
The Skyhawks quickly increased their advantage once again on their next possession, however, driving 25 yards on seven plays and hitting pay dirt with a five-yard touchdown run by Tommy DeJohnette to go up 15-8 midway into the second quarter.
However, what took Wenatchee seven plays to accomplish, Reno managed in only one on their next offensive chance, when Churchill hit David Smith for a 30-yard scoring pass which once again drew the Express to within one at 15-14.
With time winding down in the first half, the two squads then decided to play a little game of musical turnovers, with each giving the ball back to the other on three successive possessions, before Reno ultimately kicked off their dancing shoes and boogied into the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Churchill to Greg Turner on the final play of the first half to take their first lead of the game at 22-15.
The Skyhawks less than rousing performance in the opening 30 minutes of play didn’t exactly have the home fans dancing in the aisles, but they certainly weren’t running for the exits either. One man who was running, however, was Churchill, whose ten-yard touchdown scamper capped a four-play, 37-yard drive to open the third quarter and boosted the Express’ lead to 13 points at 28-15.
From there, the good news for Wenatchee was that they would shutout Reno the rest of the way, and score a pair of touchdowns as well. The first on a three-yard keeper by Alston 2:20 into the fourth quarter and the second on a 31-yard rocket from Alston to wide-receiver Wesley Gray with just 5:53 remaining in the second half.
The bad news for the Skyhawks was that, while their legs and wings may have put them in a position to the win the game, their feet failed them on numerous occasions.
Place-kicker Dan Kleckner missed three extra points in the contest, including one which would have tied the game after Gray’s score, and also failed to convert on five field goal attempts, three of which came with under a minute to play, including one that would have won the contest for Wenatchee on the final play of the game, as Reno hung on for a 28-27 victory.
Despite his three touchdown passes and one rushing score, Skyhawks signal caller Jarvis Alston found himself mired in a difficult position throughout the contest.
Alston was sacked five times and turned the ball over four times, including throwing two interceptions.
Wenatchee’s loss put an end to their inaugural season, which they finished with an overall record of 6-7, while the Express will now chug into the league’s title bout.
The Skyhawks are scheduled to open camp for the 2020 campaign early next year.