Sports

Bucklin battle: Heartbreak Cougs vs. hurting Trojans

Bragging rights are the only thing at stake when the football teams from Central Kitsap and Olympic get together for their annual Battle of Bucklin Hill on Thursday night at Silverdale Stadium.

Central Kitsap’s playoff hopes vanished last Friday when the Cougars suffered a second straight heart-wrenching defeat, this time a 39-34 stunner to visiting Bremerton, which recovered an onside kick and scored the game-winning touchdown with six seconds left.

The week before, Shelton also recovered an onside kick in the waning seconds while scoring twice in the final 1:04 to pull out a 27-21 victory over the Cougars.

“It’s hard enough to lose, but to do it the exact same way two weeks in a row,” CK coach Mark Keel said. “The players, like the coaches, were stunned and in disbelief. It was the same exact scenario. We played our hearts out. We battled back to take the lead. Then we had to make a big stop on the extra point and we did. Then we give up an onside kick and let them score.”

So the Cougars, despite owning a victory over Narrows League Bridge Division powerhouse South Kitsap, don’t look any better on paper than their district rivals.

Central and Olympic, coming off a 28-14 road loss at Port Angeles, carry identical records (1-4 league, 2-4 overall) into the game.

The Trojans turned the ball over on their first two possessions and ended up giving the ball away seven times against Port Angeles.

“We’ve had moments on offense and defense of being really good and real competitive,” Olympic coach Pete Weymiller said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

“We definitely need to be more disciplined against CK. We can’t turn it over like we did (against PA). Central’s got a lot of weapons. It would be a tremendous win for us, but to do it, we’ll have to play our best game.”

Weymiller will be coaching in his fourth CK-Oly game, his second as head coach.

“It’s intense,” Weymiller said of the rivalry. “The kids talk about it a lot. When it comes game time, the kids rise to a different level emotionally. It’s fun and exciting.”

Weymiller was hopeful that both sides would avoid any extra-curricular shenanigans this week.

“I know there was some painting at our school last year, and something happened at their school, too,” Weymiller said. “Kids think it’s tradition, but it really just takes away respect of that school and fuels an opponent. I’m hoping the kids from both schools settle it on the field.”

Keel, the Cougars’ second-year head coach, said some bad blood already had been spilled.

“Some of our guys were involved in a fashion show at the Kitsap Mall before school started and a couple of their guys were hanging around,” Keel said.

“There were a few situations there and it drummed up some early interest in the football game. I told our guys, ‘Take care of it on the football field.’”

So, that’s what they’ll attempt to do.

The Olympic game probably couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cougars, who might have trouble getting motivated for any other opponent, considering what they’ve been through the last two weeks.

“This is for bragging rights and the whole nine yards,” Keel said. “You have to live with it the rest of the year. We also realize the importance of salvaging our season. We can still come up with a winning record overall.”

COUGAR WORKHORSE

Lost in Friday’s wild encounter of the most exciting kind — four touchdowns, two by each team, were scored in the final four minutes — was another standout performance by Central Kitsap’s Blake Berryman, who carried 36 times for 217 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Berryman, coming off a 243-yard performance against Shelton, pushed his season total to 880 yards.

“He’s like a little ball,” Keel said of the Cougs’ 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior. “He just coils up and explodes and hits. Guys don’t expect him to have that much power. He’s a lot thicker than he looks, too. He’s a load.”

Junior Mike Afalava, a tight end and outside linebacker, also delivered a series of big hits during Central’s loss to Bremerton, including a blindside block of Adam Gent on a punt return that left people in the stands wondering if the Gent would make it off the field.

“He’s been a big hitter all along,” Keel said,” but now he’s finally starting to understand the game. He’s starting to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing and his natural talent is starting to come out.”

CK’s other outside linebacker, 6-2, 220-pound Desmond Malietufa, has also quietly been putting together an outstanding season.

“A lot of people haven’t heard about him, but defensively, he’s been our brightest spot,” Keel said. “He’s the outside ’backer on the weak side and he’s just been shutting down counters and anything coming his way.”

Keel has a hard time fathoming that his team is only 1-4 in league.

“We come from two touchdowns back (27-13) to take that lead (against Bremerton),” he said. “The guys understand what to do on the field. They know what it takes to win. They’ve learned how to fight, kick, scratch and do what it takes to win, except make that last play.”

INJURY BUG BITES OLY

The Trojans were down 28-0 in the fourth quarter before Martin Gratz hauled in a 19-yard scoring pass from his brother, Will Gratz.

Jonel Hodge added a 22-yard TD run for Olympic, which played without elusive halfback Jarrell Nelson (ankle), fullback/defensive end Steve Dillon (knee), center/linebacker Chris Hartman (concussion) and outside linebacker Jordan Duncan (thigh bruise).

“We’ll probably need some of these kids against CK, but we’re not going to play kids if they’re hurt,” Weymiller said.

Dillon, until his injury, had been a leader on both sides of the ball for the Trojans this season.

“If a small college is looking for a diamond in the rough, he’s the guy,” Weymiller said of his hard-working senior. “Against PA, even though he couldn’t play, he was on the sidelines helping coach.”

The record might not reflect it, but Weymiller says his team has gotten better every week.

“The important thing for our kids is stay even keeled,” he said. “Our kids really respond well most of the time. Right now the kids need to get back to basics and fundamentals. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“It’ll be a real dogfight, no doubt. They’re probably thinking catfight.”

Keel’s just hoping it doesn’t come down to an onside kick.

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