Josh Ashby has waited a long four years for White Pine’s football team to become what it is today.
The senior quarterback had reason to smile Friday after helping the upstart Bobcats clinch the Class 2A Southern League’s No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.
Ashby passed for 149 yards and three touchdowns to lead White Pine to a 34-6 win at Calvary Chapel. The Bobcats wrapped up at least a share of the league title, and can gain it outright in the regular-season finale against host Agassi Prep next week.
“It’s pretty big not only for the football team, but for the whole town of Ely and the community around it,” Ashby said. “This is the first time in, we don’t know how many years, that our team has been competitive enough to take the division.
“It’s pretty unexplainable what it feels like, especially coming up the first three years of high school to be undefeated right now.”
White Pine (8-0, 6-0) is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Soon, the Bobcats will play for the ultimate prize — the program’s first state title since 1968.
White Pine won a combined four games from 2006 to 2009 before improving to 3-6 last year.
Second-year head coach Paul Bingham said the feeling of clinching the No. 1 seed was surreal.
“It’s strange, a little bit alien right now,” he said. “It’s something that we’re not used to, but we’re definitely excited about it. There’s a buzz in the community, and that’s something we wanted to have when I first started here.”
Ashby, who completed 7 of 15 passes, threw TDs of 16 and 38 yards to Levi Valdez and 62 yards to Devante Valencia to help the Bobcats build a 21-6 halftime lead.
White Pine’s Joshua Groben returned the opening kickoff of the second half 76 yards for a TD, and ran for 35 yards on nine carries.
Groben’s kickoff return and the extra point by Jacob Johnson extended White Pine’s lead to 28-6.
“That’s exactly what we were looking for,” Bingham said. “We told them, ‘We’ve got to come out and jump on them quick.’ We didn’t want them to get any wind in their sails.”
Valencia made two interceptions, and Johnson returned an interception 69 yards for a score for White Pine in the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats forced five turnovers through the game.
“A lot of it is just disguising coverages, trying to get aggressive with the receivers across from them,” Bingham said.
The defensive force has led the way for the Bobcats’ breakout season.
“Our defense has been strong all year,” Ashby said. “Even against The Meadows when they were scoring on us, they stepped up when we needed them to.”
Calvary Chapel’s Bobby Buist passed for 89 yards and a TD on the same day he was named homecoming king. He hit Kendall Nelson on a 15-yard TD pass.
Nelson had three catches for 39 yards for the Lions (2-6, 0-6), who dedicated their new facility as Ministry Field before the game. Calvary Chapel made its debut on the natural grass surface last week.