DECLO — Mitch Orme caught three footballs in the fourth quarter of Firths quarterfinal game on Friday evening at Declo, two of which were in the endzone as the Cougars upset the Hornets, despite the home field advantage and advanced to next weeks semi-finals with a 18-15 victory.
"Are you kidding me? We started 0-4 to begin the season and now we are in the state semi-finals," Firth head coach Keith Drake said. "Everyone has improved across the board and we are getting contributions from everyone."
Playing in a driving snow storm for most of the evening, Firth took it at the Hornets right from the opening drive of the game.
After receiving the kick off, Firth proceeded to march the ball down the field, erasing nearly eight minutes off the clock before Mitch Orme opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run through the Hornet defense.
Firth stretched that lead to 12-0 late in the second quarter when Jacob Orme, rolled left away from defensive pressure and then found a wide open Kris Lockyer in the endzone for a 4-yard strike.
Defensively, the Cougars were dominant in the first half as they shut down the high scoring Hornets, allowing just 1 first down in the half with that coming at the 2:42 mark.
"Declo is a good team," Coach Drake said. "They're 8-1 and have a state championship to their credit but we were able to come out and stun them a bit to begin the game."
Out of the break Declo adjusted to a spread offense that proved to be rather effective in the third quarter as they reeled off 15 straight points, placing the Cougars behind on the scoreboard for the first time in the playoffs.
"We played really good defense except for that third quarter," Coach Drake said. "Like I said, Declo is a good team and they made a good halftime adjustment which we needed to adjust to."
Firth certainly adjusted to their spread offense in the fourth quarter as the dominant defense from the first half reappeared for the final stanza.
The defense stepped up early in the quarter with a big fourth down stop giving the Cougars the ball on the Declo 43-yard line. A few plays later Brenner Coughlan scored from 23-yards out for the apparent go ahead touchdown. Not so fast however as a flag from the side judge negated the score on a illegal procedure call. Firth maintained the ball but the drive eventually stalled out on the 10-yard line with 5:45 remaining.
The defense stepped up again just two-minutes later when Mitch Orme leapt over the Declo receiver for a highlight reel interception giving the offense the ball back on the Declo 35-yard line.
There was no stopping the offense on this drive, despite a holding penalty that pushed the Cougars back early in the drive as Jacob Orme found Mitch Orme for a 15-yard touchdown strike with 1:30 remaining.
The go ahead score would not have been possible if not for a huge 25-yard reception by Braden Boyer on a fourth and eight play with just over two-minutes remaining.
"Jacob did a great job of playing quarterback tonight," Coach Drake said. "We could have folded when they got that second touchdown to take the lead but these kids showed a lot of determination. These were two good teams battling."
After the go ahead score, Declo had one final drive to regain the lead. Or two, depending upon your perspective. On the second play from scrimmage Connor Montgomery leapt high into the air for what looked to be the game ending interception. Once again a yellow hanky landed on the field and the Cougars were called for holding prior to the change of possession.
Declo went to work again after the charitable call, eventually moving the ball down to the 21-yard line of Firth. Mitch Orme then turned in the game winning play as he out leapt the Declo receiver for the game winning interception in the endzone.
"Our pass defense is a lot better than earlier in the season," coach Drake said.
With the win, Firth advances to the semi-finals where they will face off with New Plymouth.
Firth 6 6 0 6 - 18
Declo 0 0 15 0 - 15
5:52 F Mitch Orme 15-yd run PAT fail 6-0
3:44 F Kris Lockyer 4-yd pass PAT fail 12-0
9:46 D Kai Garner 3-yd run 2pt good 12-8
1:53 D Jason Gillette 2-yd run kick good 12-15
1:30 F Mitch Orme 15-yd pass PAT fail 18-15
Firth passing: Jacob Orme 10-19 2TD 2INT; rushing - Brenner Coughlan 17-110, Mitch Orme 20-89 TD, Connor Montgomery 1-2, Jacob Orme 2-12; receiving - Braden Boyer 3-75, Brenner Coughlan 3-21, Mitch Orme 3-29 TD, Kris Lockyer 1-4 TD