POULSBO — With the way they have played all season long, the Vikings have themselves believing the third time’s a charm.
And it’s hard not to become a convert yourself after you’ve watched the North Kitsap (10-0) offensive line dominate the point of attack and open up holes for the team’s stable of runners led by gifted senior back Dax Solis, who will enter this weekend’s matchup with a school record 1,772 rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns for the season. There has rarely been a time this season when North Kitsap could not move the ball efficiently and effectively.
In the past two seasons, North Kitsap’s road to the Tacoma Dome has ended with losses to Archbishop Murphy (10-1). Last year, a 34-0 Wildcats win was part of the path to their first-ever state championship.
This year, a third consecutive match looms on the horizon. The Vikings will travel on Nov. 17 to Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish to take on Archbishop Murphy again at 7 p.m.
“I think the kids know they can play with them,” said North Kitsap head coach Jeff Weible following the first round state tournament win.
The Vikings will see a familiar face lined up on offense for the Wildcats in senior Kyler Gordon, who burned them for 168 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s first round matchup. In 2017, Gordon has 27 receptions for 776 yards, an eye-popping 28.7 yards per catch, and ten touchdowns, plus another 437 rushing yards and six scores. Gordon is also a dangerous defensive back, with four interceptions this year.
North Kitsap will also have to contend with running back Ray Pimentel, who ran wild to the tune for 278 yards and four touchdowns in Archbishop Murphy’s first round 47-7 win over River Ridge. Pimentel has 1,971 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. Sophomore quarterback Victor Gabalis has thrown for 1,443 yards and 19 touchdowns.
But this year’s Vikings defense has been difficult to crack. North Kitsap held first-team all-league quarterback Riley Cowan to 160 yards passing in a 42-0 shutout of Sequim; kept 3A Central Kitsap’s high-powered attack to just 14 points and 275 total yards; and completely shut down the Bremerton rushing attack, which averaged 292 yards per game on the ground.
Led by Olympic League MVP Ryan Brooks, first-team defensive lineman Kyle Green, first-team linebackers Tyler Sloman and Aidan Allsop and first-team safety Kai Warren, the defense has given up double digit points only three times this season, averaging eight points allowed per game while scoring an average of 44.
“We can play with the best of them,” said Brooks. “I seriously believe that.”
North Kitsap’s main issue this season has been taking care of the football. Turnovers, especially fumbles, have helped keep close an early regular season game against Central Kitsap, as well as the district game against Eatonville.
In the district game, two turnovers led directly to points, but after halftime, North Kitsap did not give up the ball once and ended up trouncing the Cruisers 66-25.
The Vikings also turned over the ball five times against Bremerton, but the defense was able to hold the Knights to just one touchdown.
With an opponent as powerful as Archbishop Murphy, it goes without saying that keeping turnovers to a minimum — preferably zero — will be a key component to victory.
It is safe to say, with all due respect to North Kitsap’s prior opponents, that the Vikings have not yet faced a team this year with the Wildcats’ firepower on both sides of the ball. The Vikings pride themselves on coming out of the gates swinging and throwing the first punch. But a team like Archbishop Murphy can pack a pretty good wallop, unlike any they have seen so far.
Will they be ready for the challenge? The head coach certainly thinks so.
“Our kids know how to prepare,” said Weible. “When it’s time to be serious, we’re serious. When it’s time to have fun, we can have fun. That’s confidence right there. They’ve earned the right to be confident.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter at Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org