SNOHOMISH — For four quarters, two outstanding football teams battled back and forth. Like two heavyweight boxers, they punched, counterpunched, bobbed and weaved. It was at once a physical slugfest and a mental chess match between the two sides.
But for the third consecutive year, it was Archbishop Murphy that came out on top. A fourth quarter 54-yard touchdown run by Division I recruit Kyler Gordon, which could only be described as jaw-dropping, proved to be the difference as the Wildcats defeated North Kitsap, 28-21 on Nov. 17 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Gordon eluded several tackles as he bounced around the end and then cut back up toward the middle of the field, leaving diving Vikings in his wake. His great speed, agility and quick cutting ability kept him out of the arms of the would-be tacklers, and once he was in the open, he was as good as gone. The score put the Wildcats ahead with 9:54 remaining.
The Vikings moved the ball well all night, racking up 244 yards on the ground against the defending 2A champions. Riding senior running back Dax Solis, who carried 30 times for 180 yards, North Kitsap drove 58 yards in 13 plays on the drive following Gordon’s touchdown.
On fourth-and-1, an option pitch to running back Joel Ingram came up about half a yard short of the first down. Archbishop Murphy took over on downs and ran out the clock.
North Kitsap head coach Jeff Weible himself second-guessed that play call after the game. He and his coaching staff did a great job all game long in balancing the need to give Solis carries with keeping the defense honest. It was part of the reason the Vikings had so much success on offense against a top-flight opponent. But once the game was over, he regretted not putting the ball in the hands of his star running back on that fourth-and-1 play.
“I feel bad because we have probably the best running back in the state and for whatever reason I chose not to give him the ball on the most important play of the season,” said Weible.
It’s cold comfort for the Vikings, but there were certainly moments when they seemed to have a stranglehold on the game, destined to finally ascend to a previously unreachable summit.
“If we weren’t [the better team at times], we were right there with them,” Weible said. “We had our opportunities to maybe distance ourselves and we didn’t take it.”
North Kitsap led the game 13-7 at halftime on the strength of two field goals by Tainui Elkington and a 1-yard touchdown run by Dax Solis. To that point, the Vikings had only yielded a couple of big plays, although one was a 40-yard touchdown run by Wildcats running back Ray Pimentel.
Even as Archbishop Murphy began to get its offense rolling, the Vikings always had an answer.
The Wildcats took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter on a 35-yard aerial strike from quarterback Victor Gabalis to receiver Rwehabura Munyagi.
On the ensuing possession, North Kitsap was able to drive back down the field, but disaster struck. A fumble on third-and-1 by quarterback Andrew Blackmore inside the red zone bounced right into the hands of Dillon Singh Halpin, who returned it 80 yards for a touchdown and a 21-13 Wildcats lead.
Even then, the Vikings bounced back — literally and figuratively. They once again drove into the red zone, fueled by an unbelievable one-handed catch by receiver Kai Warren on a play that was good for 30 yards.
Near the goal line, a Blackmore pass deflected off the shoulder of Tyler Sloman into the hands of tight end Aidan Allsop. Blackmore converted the two-point conversion, and despite everything that had just happened, the game was tied again.
“Hats off to North Kitsap,” Archbishop Murphy head coach Jerry Jensen said. “They’re a great team, it was a great game and we knew it was going to be one. It’s too bad somebody had to lose tonight.”
But as the game wore on, the one-two punch of Pimentel and Gordon took its toll on the Vikings defense. Pimentel finished the game with 114 yards on 13 carries and the all-around standout Gordon rushed the ball six times for 90 yards and caught three passes for 60 yards.
“We were kind of getting worn down,” Solis said following the game. “Our defense was on the field too long. We were getting exhausted.”
And when the opportunity for Gordon to be his team’s hero came to pass, his athleticism was simply too much and he put the Wildcats ahead for good. But it was a post-season classic right to the end.
“I give them credit, they did what they had to do to win the football game,” Weible said. “They have great football players, but I’ll tell you what — I’ll take our kids any day of the week. They’re going to go to war and they’re going to battle to the very end. I’m proud of the kids and I’m proud of the work they put in on a daily basis. What’s really cool is, I think they understand through hard work they can accomplish anything.”