CK on title hunt

CK’s Brett McDonald (7), Howie McDonald (28) and Richie Meier celebrate the Cougars’ 21-6 quarterfinal victory against Rogers at Silverdale Stadium Nov. 22.  - Jesse Beals/staff photo
CK’s Brett McDonald (7), Howie McDonald (28) and Richie Meier celebrate the Cougars’ 21-6 quarterfinal victory against Rogers at Silverdale Stadium Nov. 22.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Next stop: Tacoma Dome.

Central Kitsap’s improbable playoff run continued last Saturday night as the Cougars advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals for the first time since 1973, shutting down high-octane Rogers of Puyallup to secure a 21-6 victory in front of about 4,000 fans at Silverdale Stadium.

The Cougars face Issaquah (10-2) at 4 p.m. today at the Tacoma Dome, with the winner advancing to the state title game.

“Ever since I was a little kid, this is what my buddies and I have been dreaming about,” said CK quarterback Jason Simonis, who completed 7 of 10 passes for 85 yards, but threw two interceptions. “To achieve this right now is amazing. I’m speechless.”

Workhorse running back Howie McDonald once again carried the load, this time on both sides of the ball. McDonald rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries and forced and recovered a fumble in the end zone with his team trailing 6-0 in the second quarter to put CK up 7-6.

“We play as a team, we’re all brothers out there and we’re giving everything we’ve got for each other,” McDonald said.

Rogers scored on its second offensive possession of the game after running back Bennett Bontemps scored on a 7-yard run to give the Rams their only lead of the game. The PAT was blocked.

Simonis threw interceptions on CK’s next two drives, the second being deep in Rogers territory.

But three plays after Simonis’ second interception, giving the Rams possession at their own 10, McDonald pounced on a fumble in the end zone after the pocket collapsed and his face mask bumped the forearm of Rogers quarterback Tyler Van Sligtenhorst, jarring the ball loose.

Coach Mark Keel credited defensive coordinator Eric Schuette for putting together a game plan to not only contain Van Sligtenhorst, but shut him down entirely.

“He always gets us prepared, he knows our defense, he studies our opponent and he gets us in the right position,” Keel said. “The guys really trust what he’s doing, they understand what he’s doing and they respond well to him.”

Up 7-6 to begin the third quarter, CK (9-3) drove 80 yards in 12 plays — 11 rushes — to cement a 14-6 lead. McDonald had nine carries for 58 yards on the 6 minute, 36 second drive, capping it with a 1-yard score.

“That was huge,” McDonald said of the drive. “When we went into the locker room, we were saying we had to score.”

With an 8-point cushion, the CK defense keyed on Van Sligtenhorst and bottled him up the rest of the way.

Howie’s brother, Brett, recovered a fumble with four minutes left in the third after Van Sligtenhorst escaped pressure, cut across the field and leapt for extra yardage, losing the ball in midair.

The Cougars took advantage and engineered a six play, 51-yard drive to score again, this time on a Howie McDonald 15-yard run off right tackle.

“We’ve got to come out and just get after it, keep doing what we’re doing,” said Brett McDonald, who also added an interception in the third quarter.

Howie McDonald had 23 carries, 135 and two touchdowns in the second half alone, with Keel turning to him to chew clock, maintain possession and grind down the Rogers defense.

“That’s confidence,” Keel said. “We know when our bread and butter – getting the ball to Howie – is working … we start building momentum.”

With senior linebacker Richie Meier spying Van Sligtenhorst, who finished with just 49 yards rushing on 13 carries, Rogers failed to duplicate the big-play offense that generated 55 points last week against SkyView and averaged 42 points on the season.

“They are a very, very quick defense,” said Rogers coach Gene Bowen. “They came out in the second half and made some great adjustments.”

After scoring six touchdowns and piling up nearly 400 total yards against Skyview, the slippery Van Sligtenhorst committed three turnovers and failed to score. He completed 6 of 16 passes for 93 yards, including two interceptions.

“We like to get me out of the pocket where I can see everything,” Van Sligtenhorst said. “They kept me in the pocket. They contained me, they did their jobs.”

Simonis limped off the field late in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit on a toss to Howie McDonald, but said after the game he expected to be ready to go for practice Monday and that he felt “fine.”

The packed house created an electric atmosphere, with both CK’s home grandstand and the visitors’ grandstand full and additional fans standing.

“The fans were awesome, this was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said CK offensive lineman Connor Chesser.

“It’s amazing to see that many fans from Kitsap County,” Simonis added. “It feels like home and family, like we’re part of something big.”

The Cougars’ postseason run is a surprise to many, but the players say the team has a bond that’s helped push them toward the top.

“I believe in these guys,” Simonis said. “I have the confidence that we can go out and get the job done (each) time we play.”

Keel said he would try to keep the team even keeled this week during practice.

“Another week, that’s the way I’m going to approach it, it’s another high school football game,” Keel said. “It’s huge and we understand that, and we understand what it means, but we’ve got to approach it like it’s just another game.”

For the players, however, the excitement is undeniably at fever pitch.

“Pressure? Bring it on. I love pressure,” Howie McDonald said.

“We’re going to the dome,” Chesser added, beaming. “We’re excited.”

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