EAST BREMERTON — The Eagles had plenty of fight in them, but in the end, North Mason had a size and strength advantage they just couldn’t overcome.
Bulldogs running back Reece Smelcer bulled his way into the end zone for a 9-yard score in overtime to hand Klahowya a 20-14 loss in its home opener on Sept. 6 at Silverdale Stadium.
The physical differences in the two teams were stark — the North Mason offensive line featured players who were 250 to 300 pounds each. The much smaller Eagles had a tough time stopping the Bulldogs’ power running game. The 200-pound Smelcer rushed for 135 yards and two scores, and North Mason also used 250-pound Dylan Tupolo 17 times. He picked up an additional 79 yards.
By contrast, Klahowya has just one player listed above 250 pounds and only a handful even above 200.
“Our guys had tremendous fight,” head coach Dan Ericson said.
Both teams made their share of mistakes. A botched punt led to North Mason’s first touchdown of the game, an 8-yard run by Smelcer. Klahowya then forced a fumble on the Bulldogs’ second possession, but could not take advantage of the turnover.
“Was it clean? No,” Ericson said. “We made mistakes, both sides did. But we just kept playing.”
Klahowya was occasionally able to find a good rhythm offensively, but for much of the game those moments were few and far between. Up until the fourth quarter, a pair of Drew Dickson field goals were the extent of its scoring output.
“Offensively, we struggled,” Ericson said. “It’s very difficult to run the ball against a front like that. When teams can play two safeties on our passing game and still control the inside, we’re tied up a little bit.”
But a high number of penalties committed by North Mason sabotaged several offensive drives in the second half and helped keep Klahowya in the game.
The Eagles finally got the big play they were looking for late in regulation. Quarterback John Hartford rolled left on a broken play and connected with Hayden Steele, who took the ball 46 yards for a touchdown. Hartford hit Chase Templeton on an out route for a two-point conversion to tie the game.
North Mason got one final drive, but Hartford intercepted a long pass by quarterback Shawn Ward to ensure overtime.
“I think we earned some fans tonight. I think the little Eagles were scrappy out there. I’m proud to be their coach. We came up on the wrong end, but that’s the way you want kids to respond to adversity in sports and in life.”
North Mason 20, Klahowya 14 (OT)
NM 7 7 0 0 7 — 20
KL 3 0 3 8 0 — 14
NM — Smelcer 8 run (Thomas kick)
KL — Dickson 24 field goal
NM — Ward 1 run (Thomas kick)
KL — Dickson 30 field goal
KL — Steele 46 pass from Hartford (Templeton pass from Hartford)
NM — Smelcer 9 run
Rushing — KL: Wallis 11-53, Hartford 7-14, Lewis 2-8. NM: Smelcer 12-135, 2 TDs; Tupolo 17-79, Nanez 1-8, Ward 2-3, Nogues 1-2.
Passing — KL: Hartford 19-30-168, TD, 3 INT. NM: Ward 8-17, 68, INT.
Receiving — KL: Steele 2-51, TD; Wallis 4-35, Templeton 5-33, Keppert 4-28, Stahl 3-18, Dickson 1-3. NM: Nogues 2-18, Newman 1-13, Smelcer 1-10, Anderson 1-9, Tupolo 1-9, Nanez 1-8, Arreola 1-1.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twiiter @MKrulishKDN.