CK keeps Wolves at bay in upset win

There was no hesitation in Mark Keel when asked if beating the South Kitsap High School football team was the biggest win in his two years as head coach at Central Kitsap.

“Yes, without a doubt,” Keel said emphatically.

Though pride permeated the CK locker room after defeating the No. 8-ranked Wolves 21-13 Friday night at Silverdale Stadium, Keel said the win was imperative if the team had any postseason aspirations.

After entering the game 0-2 in the Narrows League’s Bridge Division, CK could have all but kissed its playoff hopes goodbye with a loss to South.

That would have put the Cougars three games behind division leader Shelton.

Now they trail Shelton by two games and can cut that lead to one when they hosts the Highclimbers Friday at 7 p.m. back at Silverdale Stadium.

“All week we talked about our position in the league,” Keel said. “We had to win this to stay in the race. That was the first thing. Secondly, we always believed we’re a good football team. These guys talked about beating this team all week long and how it important it was to them.”

Central Kitsap had another stellar running game, with Blake Berryman and T.J. Driver combining for 235 yards rushing.

Though CK’s offense is run-oriented, Keel opened up the passing game and showed confidence in his quarterback Jake Higgs. Higgs completed 7 of 13 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.

The offense did enough to win the game. But CK’s defense held South to its lowest point total since a 27-6 loss to Bethel in the 1999 state quarterfinals.

“Any time you play South Kitsap, your number one goal has to be stop number 34 (running back Ryan Cole),” Keel said.

Though Cole managed 183 yards on 16 carries, 161 of those yards came on four carries — including touchdown jaunts of 27 and 63 yards. In the other 12, the Cougar defense limited Cole to 22 yards.

“We knew if we plugged the gaps and made them run laterally we’d have a good chance,” Keel said. “Once Cole gets going forward he’s hard to stop, as you saw from his big runs.”

Another way of slowing Cole down is keeping the ball out of the hands of the SK offense. SK managed just 35 offensive plays compared to the Cougs’ 73.

That ball control was a huge accomplishment for a Cougar team that had been hurting itself with turnovers in previous weeks.

They had things their own way from the early stages, taking a 14-0 first-quarter lead on Higgs’ 1-yard TD run and Driver’s 47-yard breakaway. The Cougs held the lead the rest of the way, in spite of Cole’s two scoring scampers, as a failed conversion attempt left the score 14-13 in the third quarter.

Higgs’ 20-yard pass to tight end Mike Malala, playing in his first game of the season, capped the scoring.

SK coach D.J. Sigurdson said his team was outplayed in every facet of the game.

“They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Sigurdson said. “They made plays again and again and in critical situations. This is the third time we’ve played them and they got us this time.”

The Cougars’ defense, in addition to holding SK’s running game in check, came up with three interceptions of Travis Vetters passes. Two were by senior Greg Hlebechuk, and two stopped Wolves drives inside the 15-yard line.

Keel said beating South Kitsap goes beyond turning the Cougars into a confident team.

“I’ve always believed we’re a good football team with good athletes, but the one ingredient we were missing was the ability to fight back,” Keel said. “I think these guys just found out what happens when they fight back. They see what the ultimate prize is when you fight back.”

A jubilant Cougar team got to clip the ponytail of veteran assistant coach Derrow Sheets following the game. Sheets offered his coiffe as an incentive to beating SK.

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