Cougs take back ‘Bucklin’ bragging rights

Central Kitsap swarms Silverdale Stadium’s midfield in celebration of the Cougars’ 21-12 victory in the 35th Battle of Bucklin Hill Friday. CK extends its overall lead in the rivalry series to 21-14. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap swarms Silverdale Stadium’s midfield in celebration of the Cougars’ 21-12 victory in the 35th Battle of Bucklin Hill Friday. CK extends its overall lead in the rivalry series to 21-14.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The Battle of Bucklin Hill is a football game steeped in 34 years of tradition.

As a result, the 35th installment of the annual rivalry game between Central Kitsap and Olympic was just as heated a battle as it’s ever been.

But in the end, it was Central Kitsap reclaiming the rivalry with a 21-12 win Friday at Silverdale Stadium. The Cougs now lead the series 21-14 all-time.

“That’s the first time we’ve been 1-0 in I can’t remember,” CK coach Mark Keel said, a wide grin planted on his face. It was the first time CK began the season with a win since 2001 in a victory against Battle Ground.

But the win didn’t come easy.

In a defensive battle, the first half actually ended at a 0-0 tie. Coming off Oly’s 9-6 win in overtime the year before, both Keel and Olympic (0-1) coach Eric Allen said they had visions of another nail-biter.

“I started making jokes about how weird it would be to come down to a one- or two-point game,” Allen said. “It darn near did.”

Trailing 14-6 heading into the fourth quarter, Olympic put together a 77-yard, 6-minute, 1-second drive that ended when sophomore quarterback Zach Bird hooked up with fellow sophomore receiver Blake Johnson for a 9-yard score. Bird hit wideout Deanzalo Thomas in the chest with a pass attempt on the two-point conversion, but the ball bounced off his chest after a hit from CK’s Jonathan McDonugh. That left the score 14-12 CK.

CK then answered on the next drive, with running back Howie McDonald capping a spectacular game with a 24-yard touchdown effort, his third, to make it 21-12 with just less than two minutes to go. McDonald finished with 206 yards on 22 carries with two scores in the game.

“I’m glad we have another year with him,” Keel said of McDonald, a junior. “He’s a hard worker. All you saw tonight was just straight hard work. You see the legs on him. It’s hard to bring him down.”

CK’s game started out similarly to last year’s, when the Cougs committed 19 penalties in the loss. Although things were deadlocked at 0-0 at the half, the Cougars had committed nine first-half penalties.

“I was really thinking, ‘Oh, here we go again,’” Keel said. “They just get so keyed up for this. The guys really want to go.”

But CK settled down, committing just two penalties the rest of the way.

“We talked about it at halftime,” Keel said. “We did a personal check of everybody. Just what the feeling would be Saturday morning if we hadn’t won.”

CK senior Caleb Brown, who caught a pass for 28 yards and picked a pass in his official debut at safety, said the team was just excited to keep its three-game win streak from the end of last season alive.

“It keeps it going,” Brown said. “It’s like a snowball picking up and going and going and going. The snowball is getting bigger.”

Allen said CK looked better than he had imagined, particularly McDonald.

“I had no idea,” Allen said. “That kid can play the game. He improved a lot.

“That was a good football game,” Allen went on. “I was very impressed with CK. That’s a good football team we lost to tonight.”

While Oly had hoped to start a streak against CK in this year’s “Battle,” Allen said ultimately, the game is still a non-leaguer and his team approached it as such. But he said that doesn’t mean CK didn’t get something big out of the win.

“It’s a big game, but there’s 10 games,” Allen said. “And this has no implication at all other than pride. CK gets to walk around, like we did last year, with the trophy over their heads.”

Oly running back Rashad Greene, who tallied up 65 yards and a score on 12 carries, said the loss didn’t impact the team as much as it had in past years.

“It was good winning the game last year, but losing now is not really that bad for us,” Greene, the team’s leading tackler as well with 12, said. “We’ll just go after the next game. You can’t worry about this one.”

On the other sideline, it was easy to see how much the win meant to CK, as players began jumping and cheering at midfield following the final seconds.

But even Keel said the excitement was more geared for a win that could have come against anyone, but happened to come against Oly.

“You saw ’em after the game,” Keel said of his players. “We just wanted a victory. I’d love to blow every game out, but a victory is a victory.”

Central Kitsap quarterback Jason Simonis, who added several inches and pounds to his now 6-foot, 4-inch, 175-pound frame, looked sharp in the contest, finishing 10-19 for 137 yards and a score, connecting with wideout Allen Hewey for a 37-yard score on a post route across the middle. Hewey finished with three catches for 65 yards.

“He’s worked hard,” Keel said of Simonis. “He’s gotten himself to where he is now. He’s got a very strong arm. And we hadn’t practiced throwing deep at all. I thought we wouldn’t have to.”

The passing attack opened the ground game back up after the half, allowing McDonald to get the bulk of his yards, and Allen said was ultimately one of the keys to his team’s loss.

“They beat us through the air and through the ground in the second half,” Allen said.

The Trojans used both senior quarterback Erik Gratz, who started the game, and sophomore Bird. Allen said he was pleased with the efforts by both. Gratz finished 1-3 while Bird was 4-11 for 29 yards and a score, but also got intercepted.

“It’s not a cut-and-dry case at all,” Allen said of his quarterbacking situation. “Zach played well at times for a sophomore. Erik played well at times.”

Another top Oly sophomore, Larry Dixon, made his anticipated debut, picking up 32 yards on nine carries and adding a 7-yard reception. Greene said the team has a wealth of weapons this season.

“We have a lot of good offensive weapons,” he said. “They’re helping us out a lot. We have six really good running backs. We have really good receivers. Tonight was just a little taste.”

Olympic, which had lost seven straight “Battles” prior to winning last year, was just happy to restore the rivalry’s competitiveness.

“I’m just glad now it’s a true rivalry,” Allen said. “When I got here, we lost 45-0. I’m just glad we have got that rivalry. It’s anyone’s game now.”

But this year it was CK’s. That’s what Brown said the team will remember as the season continues.

“Just keep that high,” he said. “Just remember how it feels and keep it going.”

Central Kitsap will square off with Auburn Riverside (1-0) next on Friday at 7:30 p.m. while Olympic will travel to North Mason (0-1) at 7 p.m.

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