POULSBO — Senior Nic Stearns scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes to go and the North Kitsap defense held Central on its final drive as the Vikings escaped with another close win, 28-21.
Stearns’ 34-yard rushing touchdown was one of two for the running back in the game; the other was a 23-yarder in the first quarter. Otherwise, the Viking play book was only open to the passing side, as the Cougar defense held NK’s short game to little offense.
“CK did a really good job tonight,” said Vikes’ Head Coach Jerry Parrish. “They took the short stuff away. We had to make some adjustments.”
“We saw some things consistent in their films (of previous games),” Cougars’ Head Coach Mark Keel said. “I felt like our guys could run with their guys athletically, and then we could go after (QB Jared) Prince.”
After a pair of touchdowns — with Vikes’ Prince finding Jordan Henry for a 33-yard touchdown pass, and Central’s Noel Gordon running in from 11 yards out — the game was proving to be less of an NK blowout and more of a hard-fought battle with the Vikings coming up with some late-game heroics.
With things knotted at 7-7, Viking Travis Tobin recovered a punt fumble that put NK on the Cougar 23-yard-line. Stearns scored his first rushing TD on a hand-off from quarterback Jared Prince to put the Vikings up 14-7.
Central struck back on a lengthy 85-yard drive, ending the first quarter with a 15-yard rushing touchdown by running back Daniel Mayfield.
North Kitsap started the second quarter with Stearns picking off Cougar quarterback Nick LaFontaine. But an illegal block took away what looked to be a 56-yard return for another Vikings’ score, and the resulting NK offense went three and out. Neither team put points on the board in the second, and most of the third.
“We made defensive adjustments in the second half,” said Parrish. “And they worked out pretty well.”
Central made some adjustments of its own — but perhaps not quite soon enough, Coach Keel said.
“Mid-way through the third, we went to zone coverage,” Keel said. “If we would have gone to the zone coverage earlier, I think we’d have been in a better position.”
Late in the third, NK put together an 89-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 58-yard reception from Prince to receiver Henry. Prince then completed the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Tobin.
After CK failed to score on the next drive, the Vikings missed a field goal attempt from 41 yards out, keeping the Cougars within a touchdown to tie.
The Cougars took advantage of the opportunity, with a spectacular pass from LaFontaine to Noel Gordon for a 75-yard strike to knot the game 21-21 with 5:20 left in regulation.
“(LaFontaine) actually called the play,” said Keel. “He changed the formation and saw some things that we were able to take advantage of.”
The Vikings put together the scoring drive of the game, with Prince hitting Jeremiah Doehne for 20 yards, and then handing it off to Stearns for the game winner from 34 yards out.
NK’s defense made the crucial stop of the game with 1:37 left, holding the Cougars on the Viking 39 on 4th and 6 yards to go.
This Thursday, North Kitsap (5-1 league, 7-1 overall) will travel to Shelton for their season finale. A win will solidify the team in the playoffs.
“We have a really high confidence going in (against Shelton),” Parrish said. “I’m so proud of our kids.”
Central Kitsap (2-4 league, 2-6 overall), will play at home versus Port Angeles Thursday.