For a team hoping to ascend the league ranks and secure a playoff spot, these are the games you have to win.
Aberdeen entered Friday’s contest against the lowly Rochester Warriors needing a victory if it hoped to lock up at least a No. 3 seed in the 2A Evergreen Conference and continue to control its own destiny.
With so much on the line, the Bobcats took care of business.
Aberdeen got big performances from quarterback Grady Springer, running back/defensive back Aidan Watkins and a defense that held the Warriors scoreless until the final two minutes of the game in a 35-8 victory on Friday in Aberdeen.
“If we didn’t win, it was going to be hard to make it into the playoffs,” said Springer, who tossed three touchdown passes in the game. “It was a must-need win.”
Aberdeen (4-3 overall, 3-1 2A Evergreen) struck first with a defensive touchdown.
On Rochester’s second offensive possession, Watkins jumped the route of a Warriors receiver in the flat and scampered 25 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead at the 7:21 mark of the first quarter.
“We were in a cover-three (defense) and as a strong safety, anything in the flats I have to get,” the junior defensive back said. “I saw the QB release and I just ran to the ball and took it to the house.”
Aberdeen’s defense played fired up in the first half, smothering Rochester ball carriers and sacking Warriors quarterback Tate Quarnstrom several times — two by Aberdeen defensive linemen Mason Sorensen in the first quarter alone.
But while Aberdeen’s defense shined, its offense would sputter. As has been the case in earlier games this season, the Bobcats attack moved the ball between the 20s, but struggled in the first half to consistently put points on the board.
Aberdeen doubled its lead late in the first quarter when Springer hit Watkins on a 29-yard pass up the seam for a 14-0 lead.
The Bobcats recovered the ensuing squib kick at the Rochester 39-yard line, but Springer was sacked on 4th-and-5 just a few plays later as the drive stalled out.
Aberdeen freshman defensive back Adonis Hammonds intercepted a Quarnstrom pass to give the ball back to Aberdeen on the next possession, but the Bobcats’ following drive — which lasted for 12 plays and chewed up nearly five minutes of clock — ended with a missed field goal attempt.
The first half ended with Aberdeen up 14-0, but feeling they left some points out on the field.
“We felt like we probably should have had three more touchdowns at the half,” said Aberdeen head coach Todd Bridge, adding that Watkins scoring a defensive touchdown had an affect on both teams at the half. “What that does is it keeps Rochester emotionally on their heels. Otherwise, it’s 7-0 at the half and Rochester is in their locker room thinking they have a chance. … It allows us to go into the locker room knowing that though we should be doing much better than we are, but we still have a comfortable lead, so we don’t have to get all crazy-eyed at halftime.”
The Bobcats put it all together in the second half, taking the opening possession 57 yards on 11 plays — overcoming four offensive holding calls in the process — and going up 21-0 when Springer found receiver Kyle Miller for a 22-yard touchdown catch.
After forcing a Warriors punt, Aberdeen drove to the Rochester 25-yard line, but another promising Bobcats drive appeared to be stalling out again after facing a 4th-and-5.
But Springer and the Bobcats offense ran a screen-pass to Watkins, who sprinted untouched to the near pylon for a 28-0 lead as time expired in the third quarter.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Springer of his breakout game, but the junior was quick to deflect any praise to his teammates. “But it’s the wide receivers. I’ve got to give all the credit to them.”
“Rochester thought we were going to run and play smash-mouth football,” Watkins said of the Cats’ offensive strategy. “We knew that coming into the game and we thought that our receivers could beat their DBs 1-on-1. Our coaches gave us a shot and it worked.”
Aberdeen running back Trey Anderson added a rushing touchdown on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter, to put the Cats up 35-0.
Aberdeen’s defense, led by Sorensen, defensive lineman Jabron Brooks (4.5 sacks) and safety Kale Goings — who had two interceptions against Tumwater last week after returning from a serious leg injury in Week 2 — continued to shut down the Warriors offense through the second half.
Rochester (3-4, 1-4) got on the board with just over a minute left in the game when Brady Baird scored on a 2-yard run.
With the win and Black Hills’ loss to Tumwater on Friday, Aberdeen sits in a tie for second place in the league with Tumwater.
Next up for the Bobcats is a huge game against first-place WF West at 7 p.m. Friday in Chehalis.
“We’ve got to believe in ourselves,” Watkins said. “They are No. 1 in league and probably top three in the state right now. Definitely the toughest team we might face in the regular season. So we just have to believe in ourselves and know that we are capable of winning this game. We can’t go into it thinking we are going to lose.”