by Josh Magill
As a rivalry, the season opener for both Spanaway Lake and Bethel high schools did not disappoint. It was a nail-biter to the end, but only one team could come out on top.
Trading scores on Friday night and tying five times, the two evenly matched teams aggressively battled each other throughout most of the game. Yet, it was the last three minutes that seemed to matter most as Bethel running back, John Thompson, received enough time to work his magic.
After the Sentinels evened the score at 35-35, Thompson returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards into opposing territory. A pass interference penalty that drew boos from the SLHS side of Art Crate Stadium placed the Braves on the 25-yard line. Thompson was given the ball three more times, bouncing outside to the left each time, moving the ball to the four-yard line.
Two attempts at a touchdown were stuffed by the SLHS defense, which pushed Bethel back two yards. Six seconds left and Braves head coach, Gavin Kralik, called in his big gun, or foot, record-scoring kicker Ryan Smolko. The 14-yard field goal finally gave the edge to BHS, winning the game 38-35.
“It was a pressure situation, but he did a great job,” Kralik said of his kicker. “He was real consistent and someone we could depend upon last year so it didn’t surprise me. He thrives in those situations.”
“My hat’s off to Bethel,” said SLHS head coach, John Robak. “They came back when they needed to come back.”
It was Robak’s Sentinels that scored first, taking advantage of an early fumble near their goal line. Junior quarterback Joe Martin and running back Trayvon Brown pounded the running game down the field, ending in a diving 16-yard touchdown.
Bethel was not stunned and returned the subsequent kickoff 98 yards to tie for the first time.
Spanaway Lake quickly followed to retake the lead, pressing down the field with runs from Brown and Martin, taking advantage of a late hit penalty on the Braves. A dual-threat, Martin scored from two yards out behind his offensive line.
With SLHS leading 14-7, Bethel fumbled a second time and it looked as though Martin was ready to pounce, but the BHS defense instead poked away a hand-off causing a fumble. Thompson moved BHS down the field with two big runs – the first went for 24 yards and the second was a 40-yard scamper after receiving the ball from a quarterback pitch.
Tie number two: 14-14, and five minutes left to play in the first half.
Time for a trick play as Robak called for a reverse that saw a receiver throwing a 59-yard completion to another receiver. The SLHS crowd erupted, but the cheers moved to the other side of the field when a Braves defender made a goal-stopping tackle at the 3-yard line. Martin again called his own number to carry the ball across the goal line.
Two minutes later, BHS tied the score at 21-21. Tie number three and the end of the first half.
“Our team rallied, they didn’t panic,” stated Kralik. “Spanaway Lake is much improved from last year, but our kids responded and didn’t hit that panic button.”
The second half saw both teams bring out their passing games, trying to get ahead of the other. Yet, it was the defenses that took control in the third quarter, both forcing the opposing team to punt for the first time under the lights. The difference was Thompson, who returned the SLHS punt 72 yards for his second score of the game and Bethel’s first lead.
With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, an interference call against BHS spurred boos, but inspired the SLHS offense as Brown snagged a key screen pass from Martin. The fans sat silent when Brown didn’t immediately get up, then cheered when he limped to the sideline cautiously. Martin took the team on his back and on the following play kept the ball, gutting out 46 yards for his third rushing score.
Tie number four, but before the fourth quarter the Braves weren’t looking to keep it that way. Bethel senior quarterback Conner Reopelle threw a 33-yard completion that brought the crowd to its feet. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Reopelle handed the ball to Thompson, who dashed 24 yards for his third score of the night.
Martin and Brown took the next four minutes to move the ball down the field and score again. Martin had to do some scrambling, but showed poise as he evaded tacklers and continued to find Brown. It was from 2 yards out that Martin scored his fourth rushing touchdown, tying the game for the fifth and final time at 35-35.
“Joe Martin is one heck of a quarterback,” praised Robak. “Trayvon Brown had a great game tonight, but our offensive line was doing some pushing tonight. They had a great, great game. Big plays on both sides of the football, and unfortunately a couple didn’t go our way and that ended up being our downfall. Special teams hurt us tonight, but hopefully we can build off this a bit.”
Kralik saw the tight game a learning tool as well.
“It’s a good thing for us. We’ll take a look at this film and get a lot better,” states Kralik. “Being in a tight game like this, there are a lot of benefits to it. Obviously we’d like to come out and win by a greater margin, but there are a lot of pluses and things to improve from week one to week two.”
Spanaway Lake finished the game with 313 rushing yards and 143 yards passing, while Bethel notched their first win of the season with 239 rushing yards and 97 yards passing.
This contest set both teams up well for the remainder of the season, both squad’s stats looking nearly identical except for one thing – a last second field goal.
Next Week: Bethel goes on the road against Tahoma High in non-league play, while Spanaway Lake hosts another local rival, Puyallup, at Art Crate Stadium. Both games start at 7 p.m.
GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN GETS FIRST WIN AGAINST NON-LEAGUE OPPONENT
On Thursday, Kahlil Dawson lifted the Eagles to a 27-17 win over Post Falls High in Idaho for their first win of the season with a 95-yard kickoff return to start the second half. His scamper was in response to Post Falls returning a G-K kickoff right before halftime to come within four. Leg cramping forced Dawson to leave the game after his return.
The Eagles are on the road again next Friday against Curtis High. Start time is 7 p.m.
© 2012 Josh Magill