POULSBO — The Vikings found themselves in unfamiliar territory on Friday night in their district playoff game against River Ridge.
They trailed 22-12 at halftime and Hawks quarterback Tomasi Masu was giving them fits on defense. Meanwhile, the offense had stalled a couple of times in the red zone, including a fumble inside the 10-yard line.
But the defense pitched a shutout in the second half, thanks in part to three interceptions by Blake Wetzsteon, and Isaiah Kahana carried the offense on his shoulders, picking up 225 yards on an eye-popping 40 carries. North Kitsap scored 21 unanswered points to grab a 33-22 victory and punch its ticket to the 2A state tournament.
“It was by far the most gratifying win I’ve ever had as a coach,” North Kitsap head coach Jeff Weible said.
Kahana was an unstoppable force all night long out of the backfield. On carry after carry, he continued to deliver punishment to a sizable River Ridge front seven. He was rarely stopped for a loss of yards and was able to keep his feet moving after initial contact to pick up extra yards.
“I’m so proud of that kid,” Weible said. “He’s come a long way in this football program.”
Even at the end of the game, when North Kitsap took nearly eight minutes off the clock on a long, fourth quarter drive, Kahana still looked fresh as Weible kept calling his number and he kept answering with three-, four- and five-yard gains.
“I was tired at some points, but I knew I had to keep it going for my team,” Kahana said. “If it wasn’t for the o-line, it wouldn’t have happened.”
But it wasn’t all sunshine and blue skies for the Vikings. After a strong start — on the second play of the game, Riley Solis took an Andrew Blackmore screen pass 59 yards inside the 10-yard line, and Kahana punched it in from there — the situation quickly became dire.
Manu ran wild on the North Kitsap defense in the first half. The 170-pound southpaw scored untouched on a 21-yard run and also broke free for an 81-yard touchdown in the second quarter. His big play capability was on display again as he connected with receiver Lamar Campbell for a 52-yard aerial strike. He finished the game with 198 rushing yards and 71 passing.
“That No. 1, he’s the best football player I’ve seen in a long time … he was a one-man wrecking crew,” Weible said.
River Ridge led 22-9 late in the second quarter, but Luca Laura hit the second of his two field goals to cut the deficit to ten just before the half. With the Hawks getting the ball back to start the third quarter, the Vikings knew they needed a turnover, or at the very least, a defensive stop, to have a chance to get back into the game.
“We wanted to prove to the fans, and everyone, that wasn’t Viking football,” Kahana said.
On the second play of the second half, they got it. Wetzsteon was able to jump a wheel route for an interception. At the 10-yard line, the Vikings totally fooled the Hawks defense as they faked a handoff to Kahana and John Jones swept the edge untouched for a touchdown.
“I was covering that wheel, and I knew the quarterback was going to throw it to him because I was his hot receiver the whole game,” Wetzsteon said. “So I just sat on it. It was a bad ball, I thought I was going to drop it.”
North Kitsap took the lead on Wetzsteon’s second interception of the game. Josh Fisher got his hands on Manu’s pass and Wetzsteon grabbed it and ran 48 yards to the house. Wetzsteon was also a factor on offense, catching four passes for 79 yards.
Kahana scored his second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, running wide open across the defense as Blackmore connected with him for a 4-yard score.
The inaugural seeding committee will decide North Kitsap’s seed in the state playoffs on Sunday. If they are in the top eight, it means a first-round home game next Friday night in Poulsbo.
North Kitsap 33, River Ridge 22
RR 7 15 0 0 — 22
NK 6 6 14 7 — 33
NK — Isaiah Kahana 7 run (kick failed)
RR — Tomasi Manu 21 run (Miller kick)
NK — Luca Laura 23 field goal
RR — Lamar Campbell 52 pass from Manu (Miller kick)
RR — Manu 81 run (Owens run)
NK — Laura 20 field goal
NK — John Jones 10 run (Laura kick)
NK — Blake Wetzsteon 48 interception return (Laura kick)
NK — Kahana 4 pass from Andrew Blackmore (Laura kick)
Rushing — NK: Kahana 40-225, TD; Jones 2-12, TD; Solis 3-11, Williams 2-9, Blackmore 4-7, Bell 1-(-1). RR: Manu 16-198, 2 TD; Hunkin 9-31, Owens 2-5, Trinidad 1-2.
Passing — NK: Blackmore 8-20-153, TD. RR: Manu 5-15-71, TD, 3 INT; J. Larson 0-1-0.
Receiving — NK: Wetzsteon 4-79, Solis 2-61, Kahana 2-13, TD. RR: Campbell 2-54, TD; Trinidad 1-11, Owens 1-6, Eder 1-0.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.