PORT ORCHARD — If you’re a believer in good omens, then last Friday night at Ed Fisher Field may have been a sign that South Kitsap football is finding its way out of the woods.
The pregame ceremony was moving enough to be worth the price of admission. Fisher, who spent 23 years as the head coach at South Kitsap, was on hand to see the athletic complex renamed in his honor.
At the end of his speech to the huge crowd on hand, he symbolically passed the torch to the football program’s new head coach in a move befitting a man of his class and grace.
“To Dan Ericson: all the best and be the change. Go Wolves!”
Another good omen.
Then, beneath the full moon on a Friday the 13th after an official changing of the guard, South Kitsap went out onto the newly christened field and simultaneously snapped its 19-game SPSL losing streak — and the 21st overall — in a 31-17 win over Rogers. Players and fans poured onto the field in a scene more like one from the Tacoma Dome following a victory in a state championship game. Players cried, coaches hugged and the weight of the long losing streak had disappeared.
Perhaps the stars had aligned in just the right way to set the Wolves on a path back to their former glory.
“Disneyland could not have scripted anything better than what this was,” Fisher said following the game. “It was unbelievable.”
Of course, in reality, there is more to it than that. It began with putting a veteran coaching staff in place, comprised of people with tons of experience who publicly said all the right things during the spring about bringing a winning culture back to Port Orchard. Then, 120 players turned out at fall camp, including athletes who play other sports at the school and brought with them different skills. Practices were lively and the players were full of optimism.
It would have been easy to look at the season-opening 50-0 Sumner loss and think nothing had changed. You could have said the same after South Kitsap goofed up on two short kickoffs early in the game against Rogers or when the Wolves failed to punch in a score from the 1-yard line, despite several attempts.
But then it became apparent the defense would hold its ground. Veterans of the program — including linebacker Richard Nolan and linemen Zowie Pangenlian, Raymond Rogers and Trentyn George — did the tough physical work upfront to limit the Rams’ inside rushing attack, helping cornerback Deyondre Davis and safety Sam Canton, neither of whom played last year, do what skill guys do best — make plays.
Davis had his hands full with Rogers’s explosive top receiver Tyrese Rios-Trapp but held him to just 76 yards on 10 catches. He finished the game with 15 tackles and an interception on defense. Canton had two interceptions and knocked down what could have been an easy third pick.
Then the offense, led by junior quarterback Rylen Bayne, took over. Bayne may have never played the position before, but he sure looked like a veteran signal-caller in this game. He threw a touchdown pass late in the first half and two more in the second half, connecting twice with Davis and once with Da’Vi Guzman-Estrada.
No one knows what South Kitsap’s final record will be this year, but there’s no doubt the players will have a little extra juice with the words “Welcome to Ed Fisher Field” imprinted on the eastern side of the building adjacent to the athletic complex.
With Fisher at the helm, South Kitsap had 19 consecutive winning seasons and reached the state championship game three times, winning it all in 1994. The Wolves averaged 9.5 wins per game during those 19 seasons. He finished his career with a 197-49 record.
It was a team effort, Fisher said, as he went on to thank not just his own staff, but the administration and support staff throughout the entire district.
And of course, most of all, he singled out his players — and there was a large contingent in attendance to recognize their coach.
“Your commitment to hard work, your commitment to discipline and the effort you put out on this field was incredible, “Fisher said. “Your performance is what made this program what it was — simply the best.”
Twenty-five of them went on to be all-state players. Six were all-Americans. And three played in the NFL — Andrew Peterson, Benji Olson and Tony Coats. His 1994 state championship quarterback, Willie Bloomquist, was a longtime Major League Baseball middle infielder.
But Fisher wasn’t a one-man show. Behind the scenes at home, he had the love and support of his wife Susie and his family.
Susie created a special tradition for her husband, preparing a rose for Ed to wear on his sweater for each game. In honor of that, rose bushes have been planted in a maroon, white and yellow pattern on the walkway behind the bleachers.
There are currently 18 roses, but there will eventually be 48 — one for every minute of a high school game. The garden is adorned with a plaque that has a message from Ed to Susie thanking her for her decades of support and dedication. The roses will be maintained by the football team.
Fisher, now retired and living in Arizona, had only been able to attend one South Kitsap football game before last Friday — the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 championship team. But his fingerprints are still on this program.
Eric Canton, the offensive coordinator and former head coach who was once Fisher’s quarterback, invoked one of his old maxims at halftime Friday to inspire the players, who were in a 7-7 tie at that point.
“All 48,” Canton wrote on the board.
South Kitsap scored two touchdowns in the third and 10 more points in the fourth. The offense also converted several times on fourth down deep in Rogers territory, thanks to some aggressive play calling and good execution by the players.
Following the game, Canton and Fisher shared a hug on the field. The old football coach was impressed with his former quarterback’s guts.
“There was a little bit of a quarterback in you on fourth down when you ran the slant; I saw the safeties up,” Fisher remarked.
“What do you have to lose? It’s fourth down,” Canton replied. He did his old coach proud.