The Round Valley-Show Low game Friday that featured 27 points and four lead changes in the fourth quarter was decided by two consecutive defensive plays.

When Show Low began its last possession with 1:02 left to play the Cougars had scored touchdowns on their last three drives so a game-winning, last-minute strike seemed imminent, especially considering that Colten Yeager had thrown for two touchdown passes.

Their final attempt began from their 34-yard line, and Yeager completed two of three passes for 17 yards before Bryson Ryan ran for a 10-yard gain, a trio of plays that moved the Cougars to the Elks’ 39-yard line with 33 seconds left.

Then the Elks clamped down on defense for two plays.

Senior nose guard Jadon Cisco burst through a gap in the Cougars’ offensive line and sacked Yeager for an 11-yard loss. Next, the Cougars’ senior quarterback was intercepted by safety Niko Pena at the 20-yard line with 21 seconds on the clock to preserve Round Valley’s 36-32 victory.

The Elks improved to 7-0 while the Cougars suffered their first loss of the season and fell to 6-1.

“He’s been starting for three years,” Round Valley coach Brad Baca said of Cisco. “He’s one of those kids. He’s been around forever. We told him make a play, and he went and made a play. That’s what we needed.”

The Cougars opened the game with a 17-play, 70-yard drive but were thwarted when three defensive players stuffed running back Ryan Kishbaugh on a fourth-down run at the 4-yard line. Kishbaugh ended the game with 137 yards rushing on 21 carries.

The Elks took possession for their first time and struck quickly.

Sophomore quarterback Ryker Marble gained 1 yard, and running back Seth Wiltbank followed with a 95-yard scoring burst for a 7-0 lead.

Wiltbank’s play would help the Elks take leads of 14-6, 21-14 and 29-26, but largely from Kishbaugh’s yardage, that included a 48-yard TD run, the Cougars were resilient and led themselves at 26-21 and 32-29.

“That was real gutty. Our kids never gave up,” Baca said. “Their kids played hard too. I’m going to give them some credit and their coaches. They played hard, but our kids — I can’t be more proud of them. Our kids just don’t give up and that’s what I love about them, and they’ve come to that point where they’re finally figuring out to play for each other instead of just by themselves and it’s coming together, slowly coming together and we’re gradually getting there.”

Another effort by Wiltbank — a gadget play that’s been in Baca’s pocket for a couple of years — was significant.

With the score tied at 14 midway in the third quarter, Wiltbank took a pitch from Marble to draw the Show Low defense on the right side of the field at the Elks’ 27-yard line. Wiltbank tossed a pass to receiver Stockton Brown who was alone in the secondary and Brown ran for 45 yards after the catch for a touchdown.

“Everyone keys on Seth. He’s an amazing player so every time he gets the ball you’re expecting everyone coming at him,” Baca said. “We saw in the first half that they were playing real aggressive on defense. I mean they’re coming after you. We figured hold that one until the right time and the time came. Seth’s been wanting to run it for two years now, and the perfect time came and they executed so I was proud of them.”

The game also was a physical battle and somewhat undisciplined with 34 total penalties, 18 of which came against the Cougars. Several of those infractions were face masks or other personal fouls and created first downs for the offensive side.

A high number of penalties on each side was not surprising to Baca.

“I think it was a very emotional game, for one,” he said. “Both teams 6-0, both teams highly ranked. (The Elks were No. 2, the Cougars No. 4 in the 3A state rankings.) I think we’re both so aggressive and I think that’s why we had so many penalties. We had a lot of face masks. The kids were just trying to make plays. There’s nothing that they did wrong; there’s nothing that we did. It was just a sloppy, mistake-filled game on both sides pretty much. It was pretty even. It’s not like one team got robbed or anything. It was a sloppy game discipline-wise. We’ll fix that. We know Show Low will fix that. They have a good staff.”

After the game the Show Low coaches, players, parents and students were distressed over a medical issue involving a player who required paramedics’ attention in the locker room. A Timber Mesa Fire and Medical ambulance responded to the locker room for a possible hospital transport, but eventually the player was released to his family and carried by a woman to a personal vehicle. A man announced to the crowd that he would be OK.

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