South Kitsap had little difficulty stopping Yelm’s one-dimensional offensive arsenal when the Tornados joined the Class 4A Narrows League in 2012.
Much has changed since then.
Yelm complemented its traditionally strong running game with a potent passing attack — and also won the special teams battle. That was too much for the Wolves to overcome as they suffered a 49-39 setback Sept. 25 at Kitsap Bank Stadium.
South (1-3 overall, 0-2 league) appeared poised to avoid that scenario when they opened the second half with 13 unanswered points. Senior quarterback Jake Taylor, who completed 26 of 42 passes for a school-record 367 yards and four touchdowns, scored on a 1-yard run and later on a 9-yard throw to Izaijha Byrd. The pass to Byrd, who had 208 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions, gave the Wolves a 32-28 advantage.
It only lasted 15 seconds.
That was the duration of time sophomore Scotty Cordova needed to weave through defenders en route to an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. That gave the Tornados a 35-32 lead with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter. It was an advantage they never would relinquish.
“We had all of that momentum,” South senior linebacker Mikey Garcia said. “We just couldn’t capitalize off the moment.”
Coach Gavin Kralik said that return combined with the volume of explosive plays the Wolves surrendered were too much to overcome. An explosive play commonly is defined as a run of 12 yards or more and a pass play of at least 20 yards.
“They made a bunch of big plays on third-and-long and fourth-and-long, so hat’s off to them,” said Kralik, whose team has allowed a school-record 142 points during the last three games. “We’ve got to get off the field on defense and we’ve got to play better on special teams.”
South, which has allowed 39 points per game this season, gave up multiple explosive plays in each quarter against Yelm (3-1, 1-1). Junior running back Brandon Thompson, who rushed for 192 yards on 22 carries, continued that trend into the fourth quarter with a 77-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes left.
The Wolves answered with an 11-play drive that finished with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to senior wide receiver Albert MacArthur. But Thompson responded with his third touchdown on a 13-yard run and South could not mount another significant drive.
Meanwhile, the Tornados’ offense used a variety of methods to move the ball. Yelm kept the Wolves off balance during the first half with its passing prowess. Quarterback Daylon Mathews completed 12 of 15 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns during the first 24 minutes. All but the final score — a 10-yard pass to junior tight end Joey Hawks — came on explosive plays.
“We knew they had a really good running back, [Lunderville] was an outstanding receiver and we knew we were going to have our hands full with him,” Kralik said. “And their quarterback is an outstanding player. Those three guys kind of made them multiple … and tough to defend.”
Mathews’ first two touchdown passes particularly were impressive. He found junior wide receiver Kaleb Lunderville on fourth-and-9 for a 35-yard touchdown pass. On the Tornados’ next possession, Mathews needed just one play to find Lunderville again for a 63-yard touchdown.
“We’ve got to get to the quarterback in pass rush,” Kralik said. “We’ve got to put more pressure on him and put him on the ground.”
South’s only response to those scores were 35- and 22-yard field goals by Souza.
It appeared that might doom the Wolves when Mathews capitalized on another challenging play when he eluded pressure on third-and-11 and connected with Thompson for a 69-yard touchdown pass to extend Yelm’s lead to 21-6 with 9:58 left in the first half.
But the Wolves responded with a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that culminated when Taylor found Byrd for a 38-yard touchdown pass. Senior cornerback Kadon Anderson then returned his third interception of the season on a deflection 34 yards to the Tornados’ 5-yard line. After a penalty and an incompletion, Taylor hit MacArthur for a 14-yard touchdown to cut South’s deficit to 21-19 with 5:26 left in the half.
The Wolves then forced Yelm to punt, but went three-and-out and the Tornados took advantage with a seven-play drive that culminated with Mathews’ fourth touchdown pass of the half to give them a 28-19 advantage at the intermission.
“Defensively, we need to be able to pursue the ball, really study film, get to know our opponents and their habits,” Garcia said.
It won’t get any easier for South, which next plays Oct. 2 at Gig Harbor (4-0, 1-0). Several media outlets, along with Kralik, project the Tides to win 4A Narrows. The Wolves then return home the following week to play Bellarmine Prep (3-1, 1-0).
“The schedule isn’t very forgiving with Gig Harbor and Bellarmine coming up,” Kralik said. “It’s not easy being in the spot we are win-loss wise and what’s coming, but we’ve just got to keep fighting and getting better.”
Kralik said he has seen some of that even though his team has lost three consecutive games. He said the pass blocking was “a whole lot better than it’s been” and sophomore running back Izaiah Davis had 166 yards on 29 carries against the Tornados. Kralik also likes his team’s mentality.
“Our kids have a lot of fight,” he said. “There’s no quit in them. They’re a resilient group. I’m proud of our kids for how they’re fighting through the adversity.”
Yelm 49, at South Kitsap 39
Yelm 14 14 7 14 – 49
South Kitsap 6 13 13 7 – 39
Y-Kaleb Lunderville 35 pass from Daylon Mathews (Vernon Parker kick)
SK-Nolan Souza 35 FG
Y-Lunderville 63 pass from Mathews (Parker kick)
SK-Souza 22 FG
Y-Brandon Thompson 69 pass from Mathews (Parker kick)
SK-Izaijha Byrd 38 pass from Jake Taylor (kick failed)
SK-Albert MacArthur 14 pass from Taylor (Souza kick)
Y-Joey Hawks 10 pass from Mathews (Parker kick)
SK-Taylor 1 run (kick failed)
SK-Byrd 91 pass from Taylor (Souza kick)
Y-Scotty Cordova 88 kickoff return (Parker kick)
Fourth QuarterY-Thompson 77 run (Parker kick)
SK-MacArthur 8 pass from Taylor (Souza kick)
Y-Thompson 13 run (Parker kick)
Passing-Daylon Mathews (Y) 16-23-1-203, Jake Taylor (SK) 26-42-0-367, Casey Carter (SK) 0-1-1-0.
Rushing-Brandon Thompson (Y) 22-192, Mathews (Y) 5-17, Izaiah Davis (SK) 29-166, Conner Seaton (SK) 8-23, Corey Carter (SK) 2-4, Taylor (SK) 5-17, Izaijha Byrd (SK) 1-6, Mikey Garcia (SK) 1–2.
Receiving-Thompson (Y) 4-88, Kaleb Lunderville (Y) 5-131, Michael Myrick (Y) 1–2, Bo Campbell (Y) 3-24, Jacob Nolan (Y) 1-8, Joey Hawks (Y) 2-14, Co. Carter (SK) 4-55, Byrd (SK) 9-208, Ca. Carter (SK) 4-42, Seaton (SK) 1-0, Drew Kalilimoku (SK) 2-13, Albert MacArthur (SK) 5-41, Quinn Ogan (SK) 1-8.