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Bothell bursts CK’s bubble

Aaron Managhan

Sports Editor

BOTHELL — All season long, the Central Kitsap football team proved critics and doubters wrong, beating teams and winning games against opponents they weren’t supposed to stack up against.

And while the Cougars were hoping to prove nay-sayers wrong one more time, those who thought CK would surely have no chance against the No. 1-ranked 4A team in the land, Bothell, CK had to settle for a moral victory instead.

While Bothell topped CK 31-17 Saturday in the opening round of the 2007 4A WIAA State Football Tournament, CK showed it could hang with one of the state’s top teams. But ultimately, it was untimely turnovers, not a lack of competitiveness, that kept CK (9-2) down against another batch of Cougars (11-0).

“I think the best part about this football team is we didn’t get caught up in who we were playing,” CK coach Mark Keel said following the emotional loss. “We did a good job of being who we are and who we’ve been all year long.”

Both teams began the battle neck and neck, with the teams trading first possessions. CK was able to draw first blood and eat more than half the first quarter, driving 13 plays and 39 yards for a Jeff Eagleson 30-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead that would hold through the end of the first quarter.

But that was when the mistakes, however harmless they seemed at the time, began to come into play.

“In the first half, we made a couple mistakes that gave them their two scores,” Keel said.

After forcing Bothell to turn the ball over on downs, CK’s Howard McDonald fumbled with Bothell’s Ben Moschel recovering on CK’s own 10-yard line. Three plays later, Bothell quarterback Johnny Hekker, who would later get shaken up and have to leave the game, found Moschel for a 5-yard scoring strike over the middle on a slant, giving Bothell’s Cougars a 7-3 lead.

CK would not be undone, however, driving 63 yards on its ensuing drive, capped with a break-out 54-yard touchdown run by McDonald to put CK back up 10-7 following the successful point-after attempt. McDonald, stellar for Central Kitsap all season long, finished the game with 117 yards on 22 carries and two scores, adding two catches for 5 yards receiving.

It looked like the Cougars were going to hold that lead heading into the half, but Bothell answered quickly, with Hekker finding wide receiver Kurt Stottlemyer for a big 27-yard pass that moved Bothell down to the CK 11. After a timeout, the threat of the pass, with Hekker dropped back into shotgun formation, left CK vulnerable as running back Cory Burk took the direct snap and raced up the gut for an 11-yard scoring scamper. Bothell would hold the 14-10 lead at the half.

“I think that just showed this football team believed we could win,” Keel said. “It wasn’t like in the past where you see guys putting their heads down. These guys wanted to win. It just shows the character of this football team.”

Turnovers played a huge role in the second half.

After Bothell scored on a long opening drive thanks to a 5-yard run by Trey Burwick, CK started to drive back, with McDonald starting the possession with a 4-yard run. Bothell’s Craig Monson found a hole in the line, however, blitzing in to sack CK quarterback Jason Simonis, forcing a fumble that Burk would recover for Bothell on the CK 24. Four plays later, Jonathan Kitchner got into the scoring act, finding pay dirt on an 8-yard run to put Bothell up 28-10.

“We thought maybe some of the spread formation would do a little better job than we did,” Keel said. “But we did a real good job of running the ball to the outside. They just did a good job in the second half of putting pressure on us.”

CK was able to score again late in the third quarter as McDonald found the end zone for the second time. But trailing 28-17, CK knew it had little room for error.

“What I was thinking was it could be our last 24 minutes to play with each other,” McDonald said of the second half.

After the CK score, Bothell started on its own 35-yard line. Burwick took the toss from Hekker, on the halfback option, fired the ball to a wide open Moschel for what looked like it was going to be a touchdown. But a stellar defensive play by Glen Hewey kept CK alive, as Hewey raced to catch Moschel after a gain of about 49 yards, forcing Moschel to fumble on the hit. CK would recover it but would end the third quarter facing a second-and-21 on the CK 5.

To start the fourth, Simonis hooked up with CK wideout Christian Wesley for a big 27-yard connection. But after McDonald was hit for a 1-yard loss and the Cougs got rendered a delay of game penalty, Simonis tried to do too much facing second-and-16, lobbing a deep ball for Brown that was initially intercepted by Bothell’s Perry Conricode. Brown forced the ball out of Conricode’s hands, but Stottlemyer was there to pick the loose ball out of the air before it could drop incomplete, leading to a Bothell field goal on its ensuing drive.

Trailing 31-17, CK’s fate was all but sealed when Simonis was picked by Stottlemyer again on the next drive. Simonis would finish 8-of-16 for 68 yards while Hekker would up 9-of-12 for 108 yards and a score before leaving with an injury in the third quarter. Also the team’s punter, Hekker would return in that capacity.

Defensively, lineman Cecil Spence finished with a sack and forced fumble, while Riche Meier added a fumble recovery for CK.

With the win, Bothell now takes on Oak Harbor in a rematch of last year’s 4A state title game, which Oak Harbor won 21-14.

Overall, Keel said he was happy with his team’s effort, noting that losing to Bothell is nothing to hang heads about.

“They were well-coached,” Keel said of the other Cougars. “They’re a very good team. I don’t see a lot of teams beating those guys. They did a really good job of answering us.”

But at the same time, Keel said his guys never stopped trying, or more importantly, never stopped believing they could come back and win.

“You guys played your butts off,” Keel told his players in the locker room afterward. “Never ever ever lose sight of that. Guys, we did things absolutely no one thought we would accomplish this year. That’s another thing no one can ever take away from you.”

The game marked the end of the careers for CK’s 11 seniors. Graduating will be players like Brown, Hewey, Eagleson, offensive linemen Greg Gole and Spence and defensive lineman Will Morris, among others.

It was an emotional scene in the locker room for CK’s most tenured Cougs, with tears that were a mix of sadness from the current season ending and mix of joy in early remembrance of what a ride it had been.

“Most definitely,” McDonald said. “Nobody expected us to go this far. We proved ’em wrong. We wanted to prove them wrong again. We gave it our all. That’s all you can do, you know.”

Spence said he’s going to miss being around his teammates after such a long and hard-fought journey back to state, where CK hasn’t been since 1997.

“The atmosphere of it, just the family,” Spence said. “Everyone wanted it as much as I did.”

Brown agreed.

“Just the camaraderie,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood. You go to work everyday with all of ’em. You go to battle every Friday with all of ’em. It’s all of us who were the ones that believed in ourselves.”

Both Keel and McDonald said the seniors will be missed for their many contributions to the team and program.

“Mostly what they brought to the team,” Keel said. “That’s tough to replace. And me being the emotional guy that I am, it’s tough to see ’em go. They were great role models for the young guys on this football team.”

McDonald specifically said it was their leadership that will help the Cougar returners continue to thrive in the future.

“The seniors, they set the example for us to show people, to give our all,” McDonald said. “They’re a great group of guys. On and off the fields, we always hang out. They’re just great guys. It’s great to be with them.”

While some of those seniors’ on-field contributions will be hard, if not impossible, to replace, Keel said because so many of CK’s major players saw significant time last year as sophomores, the Cougars should be in fine shape for another run in 2008.

Among key returners next year will be Simonis, McDonald and fellow running back H’Arion Gaulden, Wesley, linebackers Cole Adams and Meier as well as a host of linemen and defensive backs. While that eases the losses, CK said some shoes will be impossible to fill.

“There are guys you can’t replace,” Keel said. “Caleb Brown for instance. Surely we won’t have anyone like him coming back. But I think with those guys coming back being what they’ve been for us, they’ll keep doing good things next year too.”

With the sting of defeat still fresh in the minds of his players, Keel said time, like most wounds, would surely heal this one as well, reminding his team that just one team, the state champs, will end the year with a win.

“Probably after we get over this it’s gonna feel really good,” Keel said. “It’s like I told the guys. There weren’t a whole lot of people that believe we’d make it here tonight. It was a great season. The guys played together. They did a lot of things nobody thought we’d do.”

Brown simply agreed.

“It feels good. All three years, it’s not like we felt like we couldn’t do this,” he said. “But it feels good to go out like this. You can’t take away from it.

“It’s a successful season no matter how you look at it.”

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