Klahowya improving, but still winless

It was heartbreak Friday for high school football teams from Klahowya and Bremerton.

Klahowya, searching for its first victory, played its best game of the season, but was foiled by a failed extra point and dropped a 21-20 Nisqually League homecoming game to Eatonville at Silverdale Stadium.

Bremerton nearly pulled out a miracle victory, but a 61-yard touchdown pass with no time left was nullified by a penalty and the Knights absorbed a 24-21 Narrows League loss to Gig Harbor at Memorial Field.

Klahowya (0-7) will attempt to break into the win column on Friday, Oct. 27 at Vashon (1-6). The Eagles return to Silverdale Stadium to close out their season on Friday, Nov. 2 against Sequim.

Bremerton (3-3 league, 4-3 overall) can still grab a share of third-place in the Narrows Bridge Division by winning at Shelton (4-2, 4-3) on Friday. The Knights also need South Kitsap to beat Port Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 26. A three-way mini-playoff between Bremerton, Port Angeles and Shelton would then be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30, to determine the division’s No. 3 seed. The No. 3 team would face the Bay Division’s No. 1 (Capital) team on Saturday, Nov. 3, in Olympia.

In other games this week, Central Kitsap (2-4 league, 3-4 overall) plays at North Kitsap (0-6, 0-7) and Olympic (1-5, 2-5) hosts Gig Harbor (5-1, 6-1) in its homecoming on Thursday night.

Here’s the lowdown on Friday’s close encounters:

Eatonville 21, Klahowya 20 — “It hurts when you play that well and that hard and still lose,” Eagles’ coach Brad Hamblet said, “but it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction for our team and our kids.”

Senior outside linebacker Jeff Nordberg and junior defensive back Joel Periot stepped up and played their best games, said Hamblet.

“Nordberg made a big, big difference on the corner for us,” Hamblet said. “He’s been getting better and better for us since getting eligible about three games ago.”

Periot’s playing his first year of football.

“He’s a good athlete who’s just now learning the game,” Hamblet said. “Eatonville’s a good passing team, and Periot really did a nice job.

“The whole team did. It was by far our best game. This is what we expected from them, as far as ability and intensity.”

The Eagles, with Rory Lee pounding for a career-high 199 yards on 29 carries, dominated the game until the middle of the third quarter when Eatonville’s Luke Arthur struck for a 76-yard touchdown run. The Cruisers then recovered the ensuing kickoff at Klahowya’s one and scored to tie the game at 14.

“Just like that, they (Eatonville) get a new lease on things,” Hamblet said. “It’s a brand new game and they feel like they can get back in it. And they were right.”

The Cruisers took the lead on a 52-yard pass from quarterback Sean O’Rourke to Arthur with 6:55 left.

Klahowya wasn’t finished. Lee scored from 29 yards out with 2:08 left. The Eagles, however, weren’t able to convert the extra point. Hamblet said it was a combination of a low snap and a break down in blocking. “We just didn’t get it off in time and it was a little bit of a low kick,” he said.

Lee, who earlier scored on a 1-yard run, got most of his yards on sweeps. Dusty Rasmussen, a pulling guard, led the blocking on most of those plays.

“Dusty had a great game on both sides of the ball,” Hamblet said. “He made some big plays on the defensive line and was leading the way around the corner on a lot of our runs.”

The Eagles’ improved play can be traced, in part, to improved health.

“That’s a big key,” Hamblet said. “We’ve made it through two games now without any serious injuries and a lot of our guys who were injured are back. It makes a difference because you get a little continuity in practices, where players are getting reps and getting things down.”

While Klahowya dominated the time of possession with its rushing offense, the Eagles went to the air to score the only first-half touchdown. Jared Ottmar found Charlie Merry for a 19-yard TD with 4:03 left in the half.

Gig Harbor 24, Bremerton 21 — The Knights had time for one play when they lined up at their own 39-yard line just seconds after Gig Harbor’s Andy Willis had booted a 24-yard field goal to give the Tides the lead.

The instructions?

“Just go deep,” said Bremerton coach Shawn Perkins.

Quarterback Joe Bollinger heaved a desperation bomb to buddy Kellen Alley, who sliced through the Gig Harbor secondary to make the catch and somehow made his way into the end zone.

While many of the Knights and most of the fans celebrated what they thought was an improbable victory, Bremerton coaches and some of the players knew better. They’d watched two officials throw their yellow flags when the ball was snapped. The Knights were in an illegal formation. One of their slot backs was too far off the line of scrimmage.

“I saw (the penalty flags) as soon as the ball was snapped,” said a downcast Aubrey Neal, whose electrifying 54-yard gainer after taking a short pass from Bollinger had set up Bremerton’s go-ahead score late in the game.

Justin Robinette’s 7-yard run after Neal’s burst pushed the Knights ahead 19-14 with 2:33 left. Bollinger was successful on his extra-point run, giving the Knights a 21-14 lead.

It wouldn’t hold up.

“Too many mental mistakes,” Neal said, “but we played our hearts out.”

A pass interference on fourth down enabled the Tides to drive for the tying score. And a blocked punt set up Gig Harbor’s game-winning field goal.

Earlier, dropped passes and penalties victimized the Knights, who played perhaps their finest defensive game of the season. Defensive lineman Shaun Trepasso had two sacks, another tackle for loss and seemed to be everywhere in the second half. Ike Leiataua, an active 325-pounder, and cornerback Anthony Ragsdale — both making their season debuts after becoming eligible — were also big factors on defense.

Credit Gig Harbor’s defense, too. Bollinger, who’d passed for 595 yards and nine touchdowns in his two previous games, completed just 6 of 30 passes for 149 yards. He was intercepted once. He did throw one TD pass, a 54-yarder to Taylor Empolen-Smith, who got behind the Tides’ defense in the first quarter.

Empolen-Smith later hauled in a 24-yard scoring toss from Willie Bussey, who took a pitch from Bollinger and then completed the pass with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Bremerton’s high-powered offense just never got untracked, totaling 288 yards.

Bremerton missed Reggie Williams, a fleet split back and one of Bollinger’s favorite targets. Gig Harbor played without punishing runner Paul Turnbull, out with a shoulder injury.

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