SHELLEY — It will go down in Shelley Russet lore as an instant classic. With their long time coach returning to the sideline after a year over seas in Afghanistan, the Shelley Russets battled through key injuries and a two touchdown deficit for a thrilling 38-33 come from behind victory over the Idaho Falls Tigers on Friday night at Shelley High School.
"Oh, man what a great story, I have to admit it. If you were to right a story this is how you would want to write it," Shelley head coach Dwight Richins said. "I feel fortunate to win, honest to god I do."
The evening started with a warm moment to say the least as the entire Idaho Falls football team gathered at midfield and thanked Coach Richins for his time served in Afghanistan.
"To make a tribute like that before the game was a very awesome, very humbling gesture for a team to do that especially at this level. You don't see that sometimes, people putting things aside and getting past the game a bit. It was very honorable and very classy for them to do that," Coach Richins said.
Shelley took the early lead on their first possession of the game after the defense held on a fourth and five on their own 32-yard line. Chad Leckington capped a long drive with a 20-yard touchdown strike to his favorite receiver McKay Cannon for the 6-0 lead.
That connection proved to be there all night long as Cannon finished the evening with 9 catches for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"McKay Cannon, unbelievable what he did tonight," Coach Richins said. "He isn't the fastest kid out their but he is so darn elusive. It looks like a lot of arms and legs. It's fun to watch."
Despite the good start Idaho Falls showed that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Led by their senior quarterback, Dylan Raymond the Tigers reeled off 21 unanswered points to take a 21-6 lead. Raymond finished the evening with over 400 yards of offense.
Shelley responded with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Leckington to Justin Russell to close the gap to 21-14 with 8:00 remaining in the first half.
Idaho Falls had not one, but two scoring opportunities heading into the break the first when Raymond connected with Brody Armstrong on what looked like a 77-yard touchdown pass. A hustling Will Huntsman was having none of it however as the safety sprinted to the pylon, punching the ball our of Armstrong's hands and through the end zone for a touchback.
Later in the half Leckington picked off a pass in the end zone, thwarting another Tiger drive.
"Idaho Falls can score from anywhere on the field at any time and they put a lot of pressure on our defense," Coach Richins said. "The kids did a good job of sucking it up on defense against a very explosive Idaho Falls offense."
Shelley opened with the football to begin the second half and wasted little time, marching down the field for the score, a 6-yard blast up the gut by Tate Foster. On the ensuing two-point conversion try, the attempt failed and more importantly Leckington was left lying on the turf in pain with a sprained left ankle.
With Leckington's return in doubt, Garret Nelson took the helm for the next two possessions while Leckington got re-taped and tried to walk off the injury.
"I didn't think that I was going to be able to return at the time but after a while I just couldn't let my team mates down," Leckington said.
Idaho Falls extended the lead to 27-20 with 2:49 remaining prompting the return of Leckington to the offensive lineup.
Leckington made his presence felt immediately, as he powered across from one yard out making the score 27-26. The key play on the drive was a 47-yard pass to Cannon down the near sideline.
Four minutes later Leckington connected with Cannon again, this time from 26-yards out and Shelley had regained the lead at 32-27.
Idaho Falls responded by calling Raymond's number again as the elusive senior scampered 55-yards to pay dirt for a 33-32 lead.
But the Shelley offense was rolling by this time and even though the Russets faced a 1st and 35 from their own 25 yard line, the Russets were not to be denied as Richins called Cannon's number on four consecutive plays.
"Yeah we would read the corners and then we would choose our plays off of what they were doing," Leckington said. "I know that I can throw it and McKay is going to go get it."
With 1:27 remaining in the contest Foster tallied his second score of the game, this one from 3-yards out turning the game over to the defense with a 38-33 lead.
Idaho Falls was able to pick up one first down, but that was the last of the threat as Shelley slammed the door for the first win of the season.
"A win like this sparks our season and we are going to go all the way to a state championship," Leckington said.
"I'm proud of my boys, a lot of kids played both ways iron man football style for a lot of plays and they sucked it up and played Russet football," Coach Richins said. "We talk about playing Russet tough all the time and they stepped it up and did that tonight."
Shelley (1-0) will travel to Rigby next Friday for the conference opener.