The Galena Grizzlies ended the regular season Thursday night at McQueen High with a healthy dose of what-ifs and what-might-have-beens and a flurry of missed opportunities.
"I would have loved to get a league championship," Grizzlies coach Steve Struzyk said after his Grizzlies fell to the McQueen Lancers 36-10 with the High Desert League regular season title at stake. "But we're going to host a playoff game next week and we have to regroup."
In other words, the Grizzlies can't dwell on the what-might-have-beens and the what-ifs.
"We just have to go back to work and get after it," Struzyk said.
The victory gave McQueen (9-1 overall and 6-0 in league) the High Desert League title after finishing fourth a year ago.
"If you want to be a championship team you have to play good defense and that's what we did tonight," McQueen coach Ken Dalton said.
The loss left the Grizzlies (7-2, 4-2) in second place in the High Desert League. The second place finish is the highest Galena, which will move to the Sierra League next year, has ever finished in the 15 years the school has played varsity football in the High Desert League.
The other consolation prize awarded to the Grizzlies is a home playoff game against Hug in the first round of the Northern 4A Regionals on Nov. 2. It will be the Grizzlies' first regional home game in school history. The school's only other postseason home game came last November in the Class 4A state semifinals against Palo Verde.
"We just have to get ready for next week," Struzyk said after the disappointing loss to McQueen.
Galena is now 1-16 in its all-time series with McQueen. The Grizzlies' only victory over McQueen came Sept. 15 of last year (20-14) at Galena.
"McQueen is a lot more physical this year," Struzyk said. "We just couldn't get off the blocks well enough."
Galena actually led twice, 3-0 late in the first quarter on a 23-yard field goal by Michael Parker and 10-7 midway through the second quarter on a 9-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jacob Anderson. The rest of the evening, though, was a lesson in frustration for the Grizzlies offense.
"Our red zone stuff just killed us," Struzyk said. "Not getting in the end zone when we had the chance, that's what killed us."
The Grizzlies' offensive struggles actually began on the drive that ended in Parker's field goal. Galena had to settle for the field goal after getting a first-and-goal at the McQueen 5-yard line.
But it was two drives at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter that really summed up the frustrating night for the Grizzlies.
Trailing 16-10, the Grizzlies started a drive at the McQueen 39-yard line after a fumble recovery by Pete Lazzari. Anderson and Jason Parkinson then hooked up for a 28-yard completion down to the 11-yard line. The drive, though, stalled at the 16-yard line after a false start penalty and a 33-yard field goal attempt by Parker was blocked by McQueen's Derek Martindale.
McQueen took advantage of the change in momentum by scoring just three plays after blocking Parker's field goal attempt. Quarterback Conner Brant found a streaking Kyle Van Noy for 46 yards down the middle to the Galena 3-yard line. Styker Ngongoseke, who finished with a game-high 177 yards on just 12 carries, scored two plays later from six yards out for a 22-10 lead.
Galena, though, came right back as Anderson found Parkinson and Scott Underwood each for two completions down to the McQueen 19-yard line. A third Anderson-to-Parkinson completion, though, resulted in a fumble as McQueen's Martindale fell on the loose ball at the 15-yard line.
"That was a great turnover when we needed it the most," Dalton said.
The Lancers then got the biggest run of the night when they needed it the most. Ngongoseke took a pitch to the right side from Brant and exploded down the sideline for a game-breaking 93-yard touchdown and a 29-10 lead with 10:34 to play.
"You can't have a better guy than that running up the sideline," smiled Dalton of the speedy Ngongoseke.
"That put the game away," said Struzyk of Ngongoseke's run.
McQueen closed the scoring with a 13-yard scoring run by Anthony Martinez with 3:57 to play.
The Grizzles finished with 97 yards rushing on 25 carries and 211 yards passing by Anderson. The Galena quarterback completed 15-of-37 passes.
"Jacob wasn't on tonight," Struzyk said. "He knows that. He was a little long sometime and a little short some other times. We just struggled to find a good rhythm on offense."