CASHMERE — At the start of the season, the Cashmere football coaching staff knew that one question needed to be answered in a positive manner if the Bulldogs were going to achieve their true potential.
“We needed to prove that we were tough enough,” said Cashmere coach Phil Zukowski. “That was questioned by all of us.”
The coaches received the answer they were looking for in the team’s Friday home showdown against fellow Caribou League Trail unbeaten Okanogan.
Cashmere dominated on both sides of the ball and special teams en route to a 49-14 victory.
“I felt that the boys answered the challenge,” Zukowski said. “They proved how tough they really are. Okanogan is a tough team, and we rose to the challenge — we played hard-nosed football.”
“This game was huge because this showed how tough we can be,” said fullback/linebacker Rex Pittsinger, who rushed for 222 yards and scored four touchdowns. “We played at our level, and nobody else’s. Coach (Zukowski) says every week that we compete against ourselves to get better. I believe that not one of us didn’t believe that we weren’t going to win this game.”
Cashmere especially rose to the challenge on defense. Three weeks ago, Cashmere posted a blowout win over Omak, but allowed the Pioneers to tally over 200 rushing yards. Two weeks ago, Cashmere allowed 29 points to Chelan.
But last week, Cashmere’s defense was stout in a big win over Tonasket, and on Friday, Cashmere totally shut down Okanogan’s potent offense.
Cashmere limited Okanogan to 209 total yards (Okanogan quarterback Justin Rivas — the team’s top big-play threat — rushed for minus-1 yard) and recorded four interceptions. Okanogan’s first score came in the first quarter as a result of a short field gained by a mishandled punt attempt, and its second score came late in the fourth quarter against Cashmere reserves.
“We’ve seen huge improvements on defense,” Zukowski said. “Against Omak, we didn’t have any inside defense, and against Chelan, we were really questioning our football intelligence. (Now) we’re not making mental errors (that we had been making). We’re starting to communicate. Players are talking with each other, and that’s helping tremendously.”
“We’ve improved tremendously. On defense, it’s all about heart, and we had it,” Pittsinger said. “Rivas is a great player — he’s shifty, he’s fast. (But) we had our assignments, we trusted each other, and we stuck together and got it done.
“I don’t think we’ve peaked yet. I think we can get better and better each week. Coach (Steve) Simonson says, ‘Get 1 percent better every day at practice.’ You know what? We got a lot better this week.”
Cashmere also received a standout performance from kick returner Dylan Boyd — his two long first-quarter returns gave Cashmere short fields that set up Cashmere’s first two touchdowns.
Cashmere has one of the best kick return units in the league, featuring the quickness and shiftiness of Boyd and the athleticism and intelligence of Casey Ruether.
“They stepped up tonight,” Zukowski said. “We feel that we have one of the best return (units) in the state, but we hadn’t been successful because the front people weren’t doing their jobs. With Dylan and Casey, we have a lot of tools that can go in any direction. Tonight, obviously, the front people were doing their jobs.”
Pittsinger also did his job well Friday.
“I have to give a shout-out to all of my linemen,” he said. “Without them, I would not get it done. They’re awesome. They work so hard, and I’m so grateful for them. Monday I’m bringing them donuts, cookies, I’m treating them good because they worked hard. They worked real hard.”
Cashmere quarterback Casey Ruether ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more.
Okanogan coach Erick Judd didn’t have much to say after the game. His team is still in good position for a playoff berth, though, and will have a chance to rebound next week when it takes on Cascade.
“They scored more points. That’s about all I (have to say),” Judd said. “We’re disappointed. We showed up, but we didn’t play well. That’s about it. We’re not going to build this one up.”