Indians' heartbreaking 2012 finish makes them stronger

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TOUCHET — Never mind that without Elias Martinez, Touchet football doesn’t so much as sniff

an historic upset over Cusick in the 2012 1B state quarterfinals.

Never mind his 150 yards of offense, or his swashbuckling touchdown run just before halftime to give his team a glimmer of belief.

Never mind the do-or-die TD pass on 4th-and-10 and ensuing conversion throw that erased the last of a 14-point deficit and tied a game no one outside Touchet city limits had given the Indians a zealot’s prayer of winning.

Never mind all of that. The only play that matters to Martinez was the last of his junior season.

“There was pressure from the left side,” Martinez said, recalling the innocuous beginning of a gut-wrenching sequence. “I rolled out right and tried to throw it away.”

Martinez’s attempt to jettison the ball was the smart play, coming as it did on a first down in Cusick territory, the game tied, the clock showing less than a minute to play.

But his pass stayed in play. Cusick’s Derrick Bluff picked it off. Bluff ran the interception back for a touchdown, but a clipping penalty brought the ball back.

On the next play — the last of the game — Bluff made a diving touchdown catch.

“It was just a big play at the end of the game,” Martinez said of his intercepted pass. “But that was tough. It was tough hearing about it from my brothers (Touchet alumni Jose, Saul and Jorge). I felt like I let the team down.

“I wish I could have it back.”

“That was a heartbreaker,” added fellow senior Ruben Butler. “We were supposed to lose 60-0, but it was crazy right until the last minute. That interception kind of killed everybody. We thought about it all summer.

“We have to push through that last moment,” he said. “Hopefully, we have a chance to go back.”

The mulligan has arrived for Butler, Martinez and the other 10 seniors who anchor a Touchet squad with Southeast 1B League title aspirations and beyond. The chemistry they displayed at the end of the 2012 campaign is a big reason that Indians head coach Gary Dorman is thinking big in his fifth season at the helm.

“I think all of the pieces are there. They feel the unfinished business,” said Dorman. “We had a big senior class last year, but not as big as this year’s. We need our sophomores and juniors to play like it’s their senior year, and play every game like it’s their last. Our younger kids really stepped up and played well last year.”

The 12 Indians seniors will be joined by three juniors, complementing a roster Dorman expects to be 30 deep when Touchet opens the season against Odessa-Harrington at 3 p.m. Friday at home. The Indians have good speed and are as “big and physical” as they’ve been at any time in Dorman’s tenure. They are battled-tested at each level on offense and defense.

Especially the maestro of the ‘O’.

“Our quarterback is real good,” Butler said. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s an all-around kind of guy.”

“I think Elias is going to make a real statement,” added Dorman. “He’s not a flash-and-dash guy, but he is probably the best quarterback in the league. By the end of last year, he was throwing the ball well, running the ball and making good decisions. He has a real good handle on our offense and knows where kids are supposed to be. But he also knows an opening when he sees one — and takes advantage.”

Martinez will operate behind an experienced offensive line that includes senior guard Timmy Weber (6-foot-1, 280 pounds) and Casey Sewell (5-8, 215), and senior center Ivan Hernandez (5-8, 215). Hernandez and Weber are returning starters and Sewell started in 2012 before a concussion ended his season. Tyler Rensland, a 6-0, 230-pound senior, adds depth.

Butler, who started at tight end last season, is part of a deep arsenal of seasoned skill players Dorman will deploy in Touchet’s jet-formation and double-tight offenses. Butler should see time as a wideout and has also been lobbying Dorman for goalline carries.

The bulk of the handoffs will go to backs Edgar Rincon, Colton Goble, Colter McKeown and Cesar Valasquez. Rincon, Goble and Valasquez are seniors; McKeown is “one of the two fastest kids on the team,” Dorman said. Sophomore Carlos Rincon will be a Martinez target.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Martinez said. “Our running backs, our line, our wide receivers... They’re all good.”

Touchet seniors organized weekly 7-on-7 games during the summer, digging deep into the playbook and fine-tuning routes and schemes.

Defensively, Butler returns to start at inside linebacker in the Indians’ 4-4 base alignment, with Edgar Rincon and Valasquez slated for duty at outside ‘backer spots. Goble will start at linebacker or up front, where he makes the most of his modest, 5-6 150-pound frame and is “quick and disruptive,” Dorman said. Conner McKeown has a defensive end spot on lock; at 130 pounds, he is “all heart, no weight and goes hard,” said Dorman.

Martinez will also be a defensive stalwart “anywhere but the defensive line,” the head coach added.

Defending league- and state champion Liberty Christian, which slipped past Cusick 34-32 in the semifinals one week after Touchet’s quarterfinal nightmare, lost numerous key players to graduation, including six first-team all-state players and the 1B Player of the Year, quarterback Mike Olson. That should make for an evenly-matched scrum for the league title.

“It changes every year,” Butler said. “We just need to make sure we’re the best we can be. I’m confident in our team. I have a good feeling about this season.”

Martinez said he expects the Southeast to be “pretty even this year.”

“No one team is overly dominant,” he added. “It will depend on who wants it the most.”

After the abrupt, jarring end to its 2012 campaign, does anyone doubt Touchet’s “want” in 2013?

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