PORT ORCHARD — It’s safe to say that through the first three weeks of the season, no team in Washington has faced a tougher schedule than South Kitsap.
The Wolves opened with Sumner, which is ranked as the No. 2 4A school in the state by both The Seattle Times and the Associated Press. Next up was Graham-Kapowsin, ranked No. 5 in both polls. On Sept. 15 at Kitsap Bank Stadium, South Kitsap welcomed Ferndale, ranked as the No. 7 and No. 4 3A school respectively in the aforementioned polls. Such a triumvirate of games is enough to test the mettle of even the most seasoned of teams, but it is an outright gauntlet for a relatively young South Kitsap squad.
The Golden Eagles rode a multi-pronged rushing attack to a 55-21 win in Port Orchard, led by senior running back Cole Semu, who rushed for 237 yards and three long touchdowns.
But were it not for just a few miscues and missed opportunities, the Wolves may have kept the game much closer.
“When we look at the film, we’re going to see that we left a lot of plays on the field,” South Kitsap head coach Cory Vartanian said. “We hung with them in the first quarter, but we had a couple of turnovers, we stalled out in the red zone, we had a fumble off a great kickoff return to start the second half.
“We’re going to see that we’re putting ourselves in the right positions to succeed, it’s just a matter of ‘OK, now let’s execute.’”
South Kitsap won the coin toss and chose to receive, and the move nearly paid off as senior running back Izaiah Davis broke off a 49-yard run on the second play of the game to put the Wolves in the red zone. But the drive stalled out, becoming one of a handful of missed chances that could have changed the game.
Meanwhile, Ferndale’s relentless ground game went to work. Given great field position after a bad snap on a South Kitsap punt, senior running back Gabriel Zwade hit pay dirt from one yard out to put the Golden Eagles ahead 7-0.
After another Ferndale touchdown, South Kitsap senior Quinn Ogan nearly broke away on the ensuing kick return for a touchdown, but was tackled by the last defender and had to settle for a 65-yard return instead. Inspired by the electric runback, the Wolves answered back with a 4-yard touchdown from sophomore Deyondre Davis.
Although Ferndale’s running attack hogged much of the spotlight, senior quarterback James Hinson was steady in the pocket, completing 7-of-10 passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns, including a late first-half aerial strike to junior receiver Watiko Leighton to put his team ahead 28-7. The other two went to senior Conner Obergottsberger.
“We we’re seeing we’re capable of stopping teams on defense, but we had three third-and-longs, and we didn’t get off the field,” said Vartanian, evaluating his team’s defensive performance. “And we had a fourth down and forever, and they scored a touchdown on the fade with our cornerback in good position.”
Another long kickoff return by Ogan put South Kitsap on Ferndale’s 38 yardline, but the opportunity was squandered on a fumble.
As the second half wore on, things began to get away from the Wolves. Semu scored on long touchdown runs of 23, 45 and 65 yards, and after a 69-yard gain with about seven minutes left in the contest, Vartanian calling a timeout in order to regroup his young team.
“The reason why I called timeout in the fourth quarter is because I started to see some heads and shoulders drop,” Vartanian said. “That’s not what we’re about here anymore, we’re going to finish all four quarters. I was preaching that to the team and reminding them to look at what we’re doing. And they admitted it, they were starting to fade a little bit, so we picked it back up.”
The Wolves responded as quarterback Garrison Glisson tossed a pair of late touchdown passes to sophomore Alec Johnson and junior Riley Escota to put a dent into Ferndale’s large lead.
Moving forward, the schedule will slightly relent, though the Wolves still have to face Puyallup and Olympia, typically tough opponents. Vartanian said his team has already shown great improvement through three games and he expects that to continue as his team competes in the very difficult South Puget Sound League.
“I’ve seen unbelievable strides in character in this team,” Vartanian said. “We are getting better, and I think everyone can see that we are getting better. Now it’s just a matter of, ‘Can we take it to the next level and execute consistently?’”
Next up: South Kitsap (0-3) travels Sept. 21 to Sparks Stadium to take on Puyallup (3-0).
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.