POULSBO — Despite a couple of early fumbles, there was never any doubt for North Kitsap head coach Jeff Weible. He was going to keep feeding carries to his star running back.
Dax Solis responded with four second-half touchdowns on carries of 71, 49, 37 and 89 yards as the Vikings blew open their district game against Eatonville, winning 66-25 on Nov. 3.
The turnovers did help to keep the game close during the first half — one Solis fumble popped straight up into the air and Eatonville’s Zach Smith caught the ball and took it into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Cruisers a 17-14 lead — as did Eatonville’s spread offense, which saw freshman quarterback Kekoa Visperas throw for 260 yards on 13-of-29 passing.
But by the time the dust cleared, the early struggles had been forgotten. Solis rushed for 371 yards on 22 carries, scoring five rushing touchdowns and completing a 71-yard touchdown pass on a fake punt. The North Kitsap defense intercepted Visperas three times in the second half and, most importantly, the team did not commit a single turnover in the second half.
“We just have to do a better job of taking care of the football,” Weible said. “The weather is only going to get worse as we go along into the season. Dax knows he just has to protect the ball better.”
Running behind the vaunted North Kitsap offensive line — consisting of left tackle Connor Ryan, left guard Connor Westby, center Jordan Austin, right guard Ryan Brooks, and right tackle Robert Shipp — Solis’s combination of power, speed and vision were simply too much for the Eatonville defense. The line continually opened holes for Solis, and once he was into the second level, no one could catch him.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Solis. “I’m running behind the best line in the state.”
And those looking for a complex, detailed explanation of why the line plays so well together will be left wanting.
“Everyone has a responsibility and we execute,” Austin said.
There is no magic formula, no ridiculous superstition that keeps the offense churning out yards. The line is simply a cohesive unit that is able to do everything the coaching staff asks of them.
“It really is [that simple],” Austin continued. “We’ve got chemistry and we’ve grown up together, so it’s easy for us to just go out and battle every team.”
And there were more offensive contributors for the Vikings beyond the running game. Quarterback Andrew Blackmore completed 5-of-7 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, opening the scoring with a 26-yard strike to his top receiver, Kai Warren. Blackmore also rushed for a 17-yard touchdown in the second half. And senior Kii Neal was on the receiving end of two long touchdowns, including the 71-yard pass from Solis, finishing the game with two receptions for 119 yards.
On defense, after struggling with the Eatonville passing attack early on, the Vikings made some adjustments in the locker room at halftime and linebacker Aiden Allsop ended up with two of the three North Kitsap interceptions. The defense also limited Caden Jumper, an impressive freshman listed at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds with excellent running ability, to 78 yards on 22 carries.
“We knew they were a good passing team,” said Weible. “That’s something we have to work on. Our backers have to understand they have to help our defensive backs by slowing down the slot receiver. We let that guy run free and it puts our safety in a two-receiver predicament. He had to play the middle of the field between those two.”
North Kitsap will host a state tournament playoff game on Nov. 10; its first-round opponent will be W.F. West of Chehalis. The winner will travel to the winner of the game between River Ridge and Archbishop Murphy the following week.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.