TUMWATER – Had Christian Cummings merely made it back to the line of scrimmage the play would have been considered a success.
As soon as the Tumwater High junior hauled in the third-and-long screen pass from Jayden Croft he appeared doomed, surrounded by W.F. West defenders.
Consumed by white jerseys, his only hope appeared to be the impending whistle.
It never came.
Instead, Cummings kept his feet moving, broke several tackles and emerged from the pile. The remaining 35 yards of his catch and run was the easy part.
Cummings’ dramatic third-quarter touchdown proved to be the winner, helping the Thunderbirds edge the visiting Bearcats, 21-20, on Friday in a key Evergreen Conference showdown.
“That may have been one of the better runs I’ve seen,” said Tumwater coach Sid Otton. “And that was all Christian.”
Cummings, who also had an 18-yard TD run in the first quarter, finished with 69 yard on 16 carries, but it was his lone reception, 3 1/2 minutes into the third quarter that made the difference.
“I’m still not sure what happened during that play,” Cummings said.
“It was unbelievable. As soon as I caught it they started tackling me. Never give up, though.”
The T-Birds (4-1 overall, 2-0 EvCo) needed a play like that to offset an impressive performance by W.F. West junior quarterback Tanner Gueller, who threw for 246 yards on 24-of-39 accuracy, and also ran for 58 yards.
The Tumwater defense, playing without injured defensive lineman Jamie Bryant, was finally able to get a hold on Gueller in the fourth quarter. The T-Birds sacked Gueller four times – two by Joe Brueske – to end the Bearcats’ comeback.
“We made some adjustments in the second half, but so did they,” Otton said.
“I thought it was going to be a track meet the way it started out. Our defense came up when we needed them to.
“I just feel very fortunate to pick up a win tonight.”
W.F. West (3-2, 0-1) held a 20-14 lead at the half, getting three touchdowns from Gueller (two passing and one rushing).
Gueller completed all six of his passes on the Bearcats’ opening 55-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard scoring strike to Alex Cross.
Tumwater scored on its first two possessions, getting TD runs from Cummings and Andrew Brown (81 yards). Brown finished with 123 yards on 13 carries.
But Gueller wasn’t done. He threw a second TD pass – an 18-yard completion to Michael Forgione – and then scored on a 1-yard run with 2 minutes remaining in the first half.
Tumwater has won 15 consecutive EvCo games, last losing on Oct. 23, 2009, to crosstown rival Black Hills (19-7). The T-Birds own a 39-3 combined conference mark since 2006 – the EvCo’s inaugural season.
The T-Birds take a breather from conference play next week when they travel to Lacey to play undefeated North Thurston. North Thurston plays Wilson today.
Tumwater won last year’s contest, 43-36, in a game that ultimately decided the league title.
The win puts Tumwater in position to claim its third consecutive EvCo football championship.
The T-Birds still have three conference games remaining and close out the regular season with home dates against Centralia (Oct. 12) and Black Hills (Oct. 26), sandwiching a game at River Ridge (Oct. 18).