Top-Hi football team narrowly misses out on state

The 2019 season produced a lot of highs for the Toppenish High football program, but not quite enough to deliver the Wildcats a state playoff berth.

After losing its season opener to Hockinson, Top-Hi rolled off five victories in a row, giving the ‘Cats a chance to play for a spot in the CWAC championship game against Prosser. A late touchdown gave Prosser the win, but Top-Hi still had a shot at state after taking down East Valley for the second time this season on Nov. 2.

The Wildcats’ second close win over East Valley — this time a 34-32 thriller — set up a winner-to-state, loser-out showdown with Clarkston on Nov. 9. Despite a valiant effort, Top-Hi came up short, falling 48-27 on the road.

The Wildcats finished 6-4 overall, which was the program’s best record since 2010 when they went 7-3.

“We would have preferred to get a couple more wins, but we had a really good season,” head coach Jason Smith said. “The kids grew, they learned a lot and we had a lot of fun together against some pretty good competition. A few of our games came down to one play, and we know we could’ve been going to state if a few bounces went our way.”

Smith spoke highly of the team’s senior leadership this season, especially from wide receiver/defensive back Manuel Felan — a first-team all-CWAC selection on offense, defense and special teams — and quarterback Isaac Perez.

Felan was named the CWAC’s offensive player of the year and became one of the school’s all-time leaders in receiving yards (official stats not available). 

“Manuel is all football,” Smith said of the player better known as “Peanut.” “He’s just into it, and you can tell every time he’s on the field.”

Perez also had a breakout season after missing his junior year due to injury. The basketball standout proved to be just what the Wildcats needed under center this season.

Perez broke the school’s single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns (official stats not available), and also rushed for 600-plus yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked among the top five in the CWAC this season.

“I would’ve liked to see what he could’ve done if he had another season playing alongside Peanut,” Smith said. “They were a great tandem for us, and defenses had to respect what they could do.”

Other key seniors on this year’s roster were running back Isaias Ramirez, running back/wide receiver Mathew Ramirez, defensive lineman Tyler Hernandez, offensive linemen Noah Shirley and Caleb Sanchez, linebacker Jesus Jimenez and wide receiver/linebacker Nick Garza.

Smith also called out the contributions of junior lineman Terrell Underwood, sophomore tight end/linebacker Jason Grant, and linemen Damian Gama, Jesus Fernandez, Angel Chavez and Christopher Marquez.

“There were so many guys who played well that it’s hard to name them all,” the coach said. “A lot of them played on both sides of the ball, and they never quit.”

The Wildcats will undoubtedly miss Felan and Perez, but Smith believes there’s enough depth in the program to give the team a shot at state again next season. However, he wants to reserve judgment until he knows what happens with state redistricting in December.

“I’m really excited about where we are, no matter what league we are in,” Smith said. “We’re just going to go out and work hard as a program and create a good environment so more kids want to play for us.”

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