June 11, 2008 · Updated 5:26 PM
If the Klahowya Eagles seem to be floating on cloud nine, its because theyve never flown this high before.
It was a milestone weekend for the Eagles, as they not only defeated Nisqually League foe Orting for the first time, but also assured Klahowyas first trip to the 2A state tournament in school history. The Eagles used a firm defense and timely running to dominate Orting 21-7 Friday at Silverdale Stadium. Orting beat Klahowya 28-24 on Sept. 10.
The Eagles make their playoff debut taking on Elma in an away game at 7 p.m. Friday in Elma for the first round of the state Class 2A playoffs.
Eagles coach Brad Hamblet joined his players on the field for celebration, cheering with them. He too was beat up after the game, taking a hard hit on the sidelines in the second quarter. But nothing could keep his spirits down.
Its our first time to state, our first win over Orting, Hamblet said. Its a great night for Klahowya football.
The Klahowya (7-3, 3-2) fans that packed the stadium bleachers and lined the fences were treated to what was arguably Klahowyas strongest defensive performance of the year. The Cardinals (6-4, 3-2) averaged just under 32 points per game heading in. But after allowing Orting to score first, the Eagles scored 21 unanswered points, shutting out the Cardinals in the second half.
Hamblet said the defense was definitely the key to the game.
Our defense was outstanding tonight, Hamblet said. We just played a great game. We got big hits early and shut down the pass.
Both teams battled back and forth early, struggling to get anything going offensively.
After Orting was threatening late in the first quarter, the Eagles were able to stop them deep in their own territory. The Cardinals ate up just under seven minutes on the drive, marching 63 yards down to a third-and-one on the Klahowya 9-yard line. Orting was too anxious, and a false start penalty made it 3rd-and-six on the 14-yard line. After Andrew Manning was shut down for just two, the Eagles turned the ball over on downs, as quarterback Dustin Byers went for Michael Kesseler, only to be nearly picked by Klahowyas Zac Becker.
Klahowya would start their next drive into the second quarter, looking at a 0-0 deadlock after the first.
In the second, defense continued to dominate.
Klahoway finally broke deep into Orting territory, finding themselves at first-and-goal on the 3-yard line. But this time, the penalty would hurt them, as a false start moved them back to first-and-goal on the 8-yard line. The next hand-off went to Isaac Solaita, who fumbled on the six, allowing Orting to take over on Kesselers fumble recovery.
Klahowya forced the Cardinals to go three-and-out on the possession, thanks to great defensive pressure by Casey Johnson. But the condensation in the air, caused by the foggy setting, forced another fumble, this time by Becker, that Joe Halahuni would take back 75 yards for a touchdown.
Ortings 7-0 lead wouldnt hold long however.
On the next drive, the Eagles kept pounding the ball, as Becker got 25 yards on a pitch that saw him break two tackles. he also had a 9-yard reception from fellow senior Nick Bayard on the drive. After Bayard got 27 more yards on a keeper, the Eagles had first-and-goal on the 2-yard line. Senior Brent Collier tried first, gaining a yard. Bayard tried the QB sneak next, but was stuffed for no gain. Facing third-and-goal on the one, Bayard gave it one more try, getting in for the one-yard score.
The ensuing kick would change the games direction permantely.
The kickoff by senior Bryce Wick was strong, putting the ball near the 20-yard line. Manning was back to return the kick, and met senior linebacker Coery Huffman on the 29-yard line. Huffman went in to make the hit, and was able to wrestle the ball away from Manning, stripping him and taking off 29-yard for a score with just a minute before the half. Klahowya would take a halftime lead, 14-7. But the biggest change of momentum came after the return.
Manning went down after Huffman took off, rising incredibly slowly after the play. With coaches holding both his arms, he sat on the field with his head drooping down for about four minutes. After he eventually left the field with coaches, during the halftime break he was taken out via ambulance for precautionary measures. Kesseler said Manning had suffered a hard concussion. Halahuni would replace Manning at quarterback.
He didnt really know where he was, Kesseler said.
Orting would never be the same without their best athlete on the field. Hamblet said the play made the difference for the Eagles. He said while Halahuni is a talented athlete, he simply isnt used to running the offense.
Talk about a momentum changer, Hamblet said. Those are the kinds of plays youve got to have. Without their quarterback, their not quite the same team. Their passing game was very limited. (Halahuni) is a good athlete, but just doesnt spend time back there.
Bayard, who enjoyed a fine day going 7-for-11 for 93 yards and a score in the air and had seven carries for 28 yards and a score, said the team talked with the offensive and defensive lines at the half, knowing that this game would now be won or lost in the trenches.
We just had a talk with the line, Bayard said. We said everyone needs to do their part. I dont know what worked, but something clicked.
And just like that, momentum seemed to turn back to Klahowya.
A bad punt by Orting gave Klahowya the ball with three minutes left in the third quarter at the Cardinals 29-yard line. Bayard found Solaita for a pickup of 10, then Collier and Bayard took it up the middle for five and three yards each. Collier ran a delayed recieving route, and Bayard found him for an 11-yard score, making it 21-0.
The Eagles would hold on from there, with the defense stopping a fourth-quarter drive by Orting on the Klahowya 6-yard line, earning the schools first trip to state.
Hamblet said in addition to the defense, Bayard and Solaita were able to step up and contribute offensively for the Eagles.
Nick Bayard had an outstanding game, Hamblet said. He had some great chances on play actions. And Isaac (Solaita) did a fantastic job.
Solaita led the Eagles with 85 yards rushing on just seven carries, including a 39-yarder. He also added a 10-yard reception. Collier also had a strong game, rushing 15 times for 67 yards and adding the 11-yard receiving score. Becker finished with 42 yards on seven carries, led all receivers with four catches for 41 yards, and had an interception on defense.
Defensively, Johnson finished with with two tackles for a loss and a sack. CJ Moen had a great game, finishing with two forced fumbles and a sack. Klahowya also got strong contributions from Jerid Sturman-Camyn and Jeff Young, with each senior adding another sack. Cody Kirkpatrick and AJ Cobb each supplied stable pass coverage, breaking up several passes between them.
We spent a long time last week doing preparation, Hamblet said. Our boys did a nice job doing what theyre supposed to.
These guys, you can tell, theyre pretty darn happy. Theyve worked years for this.