Coyotes win season-opening thriller

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FOREST GROVE, ORE. – The return of College of Idaho football started with a bang and ended with a double-thud—a thrilling field goal block that sealed a wild, 35-34 victory for the Coyotes in their first football game since 1977.

Junior quarterback Teejay Gordon ran for 137 yards, threw for 195 and scored three touchdowns as the visiting NAIA Coyotes stunned NCAA Division III Pacific on Saturday afternoon at Hanson Stadium.

“It’s a fairytale ending,” Gordon said. “It was emotionally draining for sure, but it’s a great way to start the season. It gives our guys confidence. We just sold out today and gave it everything we had, and that’s what it’s going to take to win games.”

Gordon and the Coyotes looked poised and ready from the outset, marching 84 yards in 7 minutes, 51 seconds to take a 7-0 lead on Zach Garzoli’s 1-yard touchdown run. Gordon added a 5-yard TD scamper in the second quarter as the teams went into halftime tied, 14-14.

“To score on the first drive was key for us—we knew we belonged,” C of I coach Mike Moroski said. “Pacific is a really good team, so I thought our coaches did a fantastic job, and it was a lot of fun to see guys execute and make big plays at crucial times.”

A wild third quarter featured multiple lead changes and big plays aplenty. Jakob Lawrence’s 33-yard TD catch gave Pacific its first lead, 21-14, but C of I freshman Elijah Carter returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to re-tie the score.

The Boxers answered with a 95-yard kickoff return TD of their own, but the C of I answered once again with an efficient drive capped by another 5-yard Gordon scamper.

Gordon’s slicing 19-yard scoring run with 9:25 remaining made it 35-28 and gave the Coyotes the lead for good, but victory would not come easily.

A 41-yard TD catch by Lawrence—his third of the afternoon—drew Pacific to within one, but C of I safety Hunter Temple (Mountain View High) flew through the line and blocked the extra point to keep the Coyotes ahead by one.

Pacific set up for a go-ahead field goal with 5:07 remaining, but Moses Villareal-Gomez’s kick sailed wide right.

In the game’s final moments, Pacific again marched deep into C of I territory. But the Coyotes’ bend-but-don’t-break defense rose to the challenge, forcing the Boxers to attempt a winning field goal from 25 yards out with 29 seconds remaining.

Once again, the C of I special teams unit came up big, as freshman Charlie Shepherd (Salmon River High) broke through the line and got a hand on T.J. Fitzsimmons’ kick to seal the game—and send the C of I sideline into pandemonium.

“It’s unreal. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” said Shepherd, whose tenacity led to his being named the Coyotes’ first starter as a special-teamer during spring ball. “I just put one hand up and I felt it. I had to look up and make sure it was the ball, but when I saw everyone chasing after it, I knew we had it.”

Three Gordon kneel-downs later, the Coyotes charged off the field, gold helmets raised skyward.

“Never in 100 years did I think the game would go down like this,” said linebacker Kyle Cothern (Skyview High), who made a team-best 10 tackles. “For the first game in 37 years, to win like this and to see our fans go crazy, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.”

Garzoli finished with 79 yards on 27 carries and Wes Fitzpatrick had 131yards receiving on eight catches for the Coyotes (1-0), who host Frontier Conference rival Montana Western at 1 p.m. Saturday in the C of I home opener at Simplot Stadium.

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