South Kitsap’s football team and the new field at Kitsap Bank Stadium had something in common during the Sept. 4 season opener: Neither were complete.
And while the organic infull inside the 20-yard lines is expected to be finished in time for Wolves’ Sept. 25 game against Yelm, coach Gavin Kralik knows he needs to see progress on the gridiron before that.
South stagnated periodically with penalties and timing issues in the coming-out party for Kralik’s spread, no-huddle offense, but the end result was a 25-14 win against Central Kitsap.
“I felt like we were really close to some plays that just missed to break it open during the first half,” said Kralik, referring to multiple drops, including a hitch-and-go route in the first quarter that might have resulted in a touchdown. “We’re close. We’re a step off.”
Kralik said that issue was not based on timing between senior quarterback Jake Taylor, who completed 27 of 37 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown, and his receivers.
“We’ve got to shore up the pass protection,” he said. “We missed some plays just in terms of the protection game.”
The Cougars had more significant problems. Central, which lost consecutive games against South for the first time since 2005-06, was penalized on its first three plays from scrimmage for false starts and an illegal shift. On the fourth play, the snap sailed high over the head of sophomore quarterback Tyler Tubbs and into the end zone for a safety.
“That really messed us up in the beginning,” Cougars’ senior wide receiver Kaleb Bates said. “It really dropped our momentum down.”
Central’s problems did not end there. The Cougars recovered a botched punt at the Wolves’ 22-yard line, but they gave the ball away on the ensuing play on a bad snap that was recovered by junior defensive lineman Eli Wattree.
Both teams then punted on their next possession before South, which was buoyed by a 29-yard completion from Taylor to senior Anthony Morgan, advanced to the Central 6. Senior Nolan Souza connected on a 23-yard field goal to extend the Wolves’ lead to 5-0.
The Cougars needed only four plays to respond when senior Isaiah McGee scored on a 52-yard run to give them their only lead, 7-5, with 2 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Central had an opportunity to extend that advantage when senior Cole Craner fumbled the kickoff, which was recovered by sophomore Tristan Barr at the Wolves’ 26. But three plays later, junior linebacker CJ Gill intercepted Tubbs and returned it for an 82-yard touchdown.
“I just saw the tight end go into the flat and I saw the quarterback’s eyes and read it,” Gill said. “I hopped it and hoped for the best.”
He said his biggest concern was being caught from behind.
“I thought there was someone right behind me, so I went as hard as I could,” Gill said with a laugh.
Neither team scored in the second quarter as a pair of South drives were thwarted on fourth down. That trend continued to start the second half as the Wolves again drove into Central territory before a Taylor fumble on third down was recovered by junior defensive lineman Thomas Ingles at the Cougars’ 9.
South would not miss on its next opportunity. Tubbs drove Central to the Wolves’ 23 before turning the ball over on downs. Five plays later, Taylor found senior wide receiver Albert MacArthur, who utilized his track background to outrace defenders for a 38-yard touchdown. That gave South a 19-7 lead.
The Cougars reduced their deficit to 19-14 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter when Tubbs connected with Bates on a 15-yard touchdown pass. But Central’s next possession stalled on fourth-and-4 at the Wolves’ 39 when a high snap resulted in a 20-yard loss. It appeared to be too much for the Cougars, who had about 10 players cramp up during the second half, to overcome.
“I didn’t hydrate well enough in school,” Bates said. “That’s my fault.”
Several players left during the ensuing possession — a 13-play drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown run by senior Mikey Garcia with 3:34 remaining.
“The second half, being able to play that very uptempo pace, I think was the difference in the game,” Kralik said. “They’ve got a lot of guys obviously trying to go both ways — and it’s tough during the first game out there — but I feel like that’s a big advantage for our kids.”
Kralik also noted that four of five academically ineligible players will return for the Sept. 18 game at Olympia. Even without them, seven different Wolves caught passes.
“A lot of guys touched the ball,” Kralik said. “I think we’ll be a team that gets better and better when we get more guys back.”
South next plays Sept. 11 at Peninsula. Last year, the Seahawks shut out the Wolves 43-0.
“I think next week is a huge game for our kids,” Kralik said. “They traditionally they have been an outstanding program. We’re going to have to really get better this week.”
• South has a tradition of playing ribbon-cutting games against Central. According to Wolves’ football historian Chuck Bauman, the teams met for the first game at the current location of Kitsap Bank Stadium on Oct. 15, 1943.
• This marked Kralik’s 11th season-opener as a coach. He previously guided Bethel from 2005-13 and Texas’ Bay Area Christian last year. But he said he has the same feeling every year he steps onto the field for the first time.
“I think anytime you’re coaching or playing in your first game of the season you’d be lying if you said you feel comfortable,” he said. “There’s a little bit of nerves every single time for players and coaches. You never get used to that.”
At South Kitsap 25, Central Kitsap 14
Central Kitsap 7 0 7 0 – 14
South Kitsap 12 0 7 6 – 25
SK-Nolan Souza 23 FG
CK-Isaiah McGee 52 run (Kevin White kick)
SK-CJ Gill 82 INT return (Souza kick)
SK-Albert MacArthur 38 pass from Jake Taylor (Souza kick)
CK-Kaleb Bates 15 pass from Tyler Tubbs (White kick)
SK-Mikey Garcia 4 run (kick blocked)
Passing-Tyler Tubbs (CK) 6-11-1-82, Kaleb Bates (CK) 0-1-0-0, Jake Taylor (SK) 27-37-0-322.
Rushing-DeAndre Sincere (CK) 8-20, Bates (CK) 2–1, Alika Sarono (CK) 1–4, Kendal Yaegle 4-31, Tubbs (CK) 2–8, Isaiah McGee (CK) 6-70, Roque Blas (CK) 7-66, Team (CK) 4–63, Izaiah Davis (SK) 19-73, Mikey Garcia (SK) 6-24, Taylor (SK) 7–6, Albert MacArthur (SK) 2–8, Team (SK) 2–31.
Receiving-Bates (CK) 3-23, Yaegle (CK) 1-11, Sarono (CK) 1-7, Dawson Krog (CK) 1-41, Cole Craner (SK) 3-44, Anthony Morgan (SK) 1-29, Casey Carter (SK) 6-50, MacArthur (SK) 7-112, Hayden Willingham (SK) 1–1, Drew Kalilimoku (SK) 7-36, Quinn Ogan (SK) 2-17.