CK’s playoff dreams become a nightmare

GIG HARBOR — With their season on the line, the Central Kitsap Cougars knew they had to win to have a shot at the postseason. And although they came out prepared, the Cougars just couldn’t keep the Gig Harbor Tides from picking up momentum.

After a close first half, the Tides (8-1, 6-1) used big plays offensively and defensively to sweep over CK (4-5, 4-3) for a 35-7 win Thursday in Gig Harbor. The win secured a spot for GH in the playoffs.

CK coach Mark Keel said the team was ready, but just didn’t play like it.

“The breakdown was they just came out and wanted it more than us,” Keel said. “From the first quarter to the last play, they were more aggressive. They wanted it more.”

Both teams played tough defense early on. After trading early possessions, the teams played to a 0-0 score at the end of the first quarter. And although CK looked rough on offense, the defense was holding up, making big hits on Gig Harbor running back Gary Cole.

It wasn’t until the second quarter that CK began to slip. The Tides put huge amounts of pressure on CK quarterback Nick LaFontaine, forcing him to move in the pocket and throw off balance. Even when the Cougars formidable ground game got going, pressure on LaFontaine repeatedly forced him to throw it over or behind his receivers.

The Tides wanted to keep LaFontaine in the pocket, Gig Harbor coach Darren McKay said. With the pressure they applied, GH was able to pick up four sacks and force three interceptions.

“We actually wanted to keep him in there,” McKay said. “Last year (LaFontaine) hurt us a couple of times running out.”

After forcing the Tides to go three-and-out on their opening drive of the second quarter, the Tides started getting big plays. After an 11-yard scamper by Brian McGee on a reverse, the Tides got their first big break in the game, with Michael Murphy breaking up the right sideline for a gain of over 45 yards. Luckily for the Cougars, one of GH’s many penalties negated the run. But after two key gains of 16 and 17 through the air by Tides quarterback Troy Burki, the Tides were looking at first-and-goal on their own 5-yard line. Despite forcing several third downs on the drive, they couldn’t keep Cole out the end zone, as he busted through the middle for the score.

It wouldn’t get any better for the Cougars. On the next drive, Gig Harbor forced them to punt after three downs from the own 26-yard line. Kyle Anderson, waiting to punt, recognized what was coming.

“They’re gonna run a block,” Anderson yelled to his teammates before the snap. Even with warning, the CK line couldn’t keep GH lineman Dincer Kayhan out, and he burst through for a blocked punt along side teammate Jake Merrill, who recovered the ball on their own 17-yard line with 1:49 left in the first half. It only took four more plays for Cole to pound in his second 5-yard TD of the game. At the half, the Tides led 14-0. Kayhan would later add a sack as well.

Keel said his team didn’t play strong enough physically to keep in it.

“It’s no secret,” he said. “They were just kicking our butts. We weren’t physical. We weren’t aggressive. They were coming right at us.”

McKay said he would have liked his team to pick up the pace earlier in the half.

“Once we got some momentum, we really capitalized on the game,” McKay said. It was pretty even at first.”

But the nail in the coffin came at the very start of the second half. With CK kicking, Gig Harbor was ready to attack. They didn’t even need their offense to do it.

On the opening kick of the half, the Tides Brian McGee busted up the right side of the field for an 89-yard kick return for a score, slipping by tacklers before finding his seam. After the extra point was good, GH had a 21-0 lead.

The kick visibly took CK out of the game, and they would never fully recover. On the next drive, CK was picked and the drive after that saw a sack that set up 3rd-and-21 on their own 26. CK continued to pound the run than try through the air, and Daniel Mayfield could get just 10 on the play, forcing another punt.

Keel said he thought his team would play better than they showed.

“We were prepared,” Keel said. “But they got that touchdown and our heads went down, and they stayed down.”

Cole would add a third touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Murphy made up for his lost play, scoring from 11 yards out also in the fourth.

CK’s lone score came when LaFontaine connected deep with Cody Oakes for a 50-yard score. Oakes had only two receptions in the game, but collected 94 yards.

McKay said the long score was one of the only mistakes his team made, aside from the early penalties.

“We can’t have a breakdown in coverage,” McKay said. “It doesn’t do us any good to shut down the run and give up a deep pass.”

Cole finished the day racking up 55 yards on 13 carries and three scores for the Tides. He also added a sack on defense. Murphy had nine carries for 47 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, GH got big picks by McGee, Merrill and Toney Henderson. McKay said he has been particularly pleased with Henderson’s play of late.

“This was the third week in a row he’s made some big plays for us,” McKay said. “He’s going to be a college player.”

For CK, Mayfield led the way with 60 yards on 15 carries. LaFontaine would finish the day 6-for-16 for 130 yards, but with just one score and three picks. He also lost 31 yards on the four sacks. He did, however, add a fumble recovery late.

Keel had a hard time finding a silver lining in the defeat.

“We came out healthy, so that’s always good,” Keel said. “But we came out here to win and didn’t. That overshadows everything.”

With only the Narrows League crossover game left, CK will try to bounce back and end the season on a positive note.

“We’ve just got to get our confidence back first,” Keel said. “Hopefully our guys can have fun in practice and go get a win.”

CK takes on Bellarmine Prep in the crossover Thursday for a 7 p.m. game at Silverdale Stadium.

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