Friday night’s first-half numbers for the Astoria Fishermen were not encouraging.
Offensively, the Fishermen had just three first downs (one by penalty), with minus one yard passing, and trailed 19-0 on the scoreboard to the visiting Stayton Eagles.
But in a comeback for the ages, the Fishermen scored 22 unanswered points in the second half, and shut down Stayton for a 22-19 nonleague win at CMH Field.
The home opener, complete with a pregame Coast Guard flyover, was a fun fest for those who stayed, as the Fishermen woke up some echoes of the past, racking up yards on offense and stuffing the Eagles on defense.
It was a complete role reversal in the second half.
“The script got flipped,” said Astoria coach Howard Rub. “We had a lot of things not go our way in the first half. It was good to see the urgency in the second half, and the kids battling to the end.”
Not much went right for the Fishermen in the first half.
Astoria’s Ian Hunt snagged an interception at the Fishermen 2-yard line, but Stayton scored on the very next play, when an Astoria fumble was scooped up and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
A 44-yard punt return by Sean Bodi set up Stayton’s second touchdown, and a 21-yard run by quarterback Ben Rash with 45 seconds left in the first half gave the Eagles a 19-0 lead at the break.
With their minus one yard passing and three first downs, the Fishermen were dead in the water and calling for the Coast Guard to return.
“Everything that could go wrong in the first half, did go wrong,” Rub said. “I don’t know what the attitude was (of the Astoria players), nor did I care. I just know that they came out and showed some heart in the second half.
“It was a weird night. I was very frustrated at halftime, as I’m sure everybody was. But I was happy that we were able to resurrect the second half, and play some good, solid football.”
The Eagles, meanwhile, did everything to help Astoria’s second-half comeback. Stayton lost two of its four fumbles, and had 10 penalties for 75 yards.
The play that seemed to turn the momentum was a mishandled snap by the Eagles on a punt in the third quarter.
Stayton’s Austin Jones had a chance to punt the ball away, but ran out of bounds at the Eagle 20-yard line for a nine-yard loss.
Four plays later, the Fishermen scored on a 2-yard pass from Bo Williams to Hunt.
“We got a big spark offensively when we put Justin (Villa) back at his normal position, and brought in Bo at quarterback,” Rub said. “It changed the dynamic of what the offense had been doing.”
Still, the Eagles were on the verge of putting the game away on the next drive, as they moved the ball to the Astoria 5. But Braden Ballard fumbled on a first-down play, and the Fishermen took over.
With Williams calling the signals and Villa moving to receiver, Williams threw to Villa on first down for a 27-yard gain.
And with the help of two offsides penalties and a late hit call on the Eagles, Astoria moved the ball to the Eagle 12.
Niko Caruana took it in from there, scoring on a 12-yard run to bring the Fishermen to within 19-14.
“Dylan (Ploghoft) made a great strip and got us the ball back, and we immediately threw a little wheel route to Justin for a big gain, and that gave us some momentum to finish that drive,” Rub said.
The Stayton meltdown continued moments later, when the Eagles fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Astoria recovering at the Stayton 40.
With all the momentum on their side, it only took the Fishermen five plays to score. Williams connected with Villa over the middle, and Villa took it 33 yards for the go-ahead score, with 8:50 remaining.
The Astoria defense stuffed the Stayton run game, as the Eagles finished with 86 yards on 31 attempts (2.8 per carry).
In his relief role at quarterback, Williams was 3-for-6 for 62 yards, while Caruana carried 14 times for 85 yards.
“The defense was pretty good throughout the night, especially in the second half,” Rub said. “Balan Kolee did a good job at inside ‘backer, along with Ebin Hillard.”
It wasn’t the biggest comeback in Rub’s 19 years as coach, but it was close.
“We had the miracle at Central in ‘01, when we were down 35-7 at the half (and won, 42-35), but this ranks right up there,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere, and we were able to create a nice memory for ourselves.”
Williams will be Astoria’s new starter at quarterback.
“There’s no issue,” Rub said. “We were able to finish drives with Bo under center, so that’s definitely the direction we’ll be going.”
Villa “made a huge play on a reverse that kept a drive going, and moving forward, it will be better for the offense with Justin in the slot or split end, to utilize his talents.”
So the Fishermen will have a very young quarterback as they face a state playoff team (Estacada) this week, and perhaps the top team in the state (Seaside) the following week.
“When you have a sophomore under center, there will be some growing pains along the way, but Bo’s been playing quarterback since the third grade,” Rub said. “He’s confident and understands the offense. We’ll try to keep him upright and healthy, and rely on a good running game. We don’t want a lot of pressure on a young quarterback, so he doesn’t have to come in with us 19 points down.”