Snohomish was hyped. Oak Harbor was young -- and better.
The Wildcats ripped the new-look Panthers 38-20 in the season-opening football game at Snohomish’s Veterans Memorial Stadium Friday, Sept 6.
A long-time Snohomish coach said before the game he hadn’t seen the players, coaches and fans so “jazzed” for a game in a long time. The storied Snohomish program is among the state leaders in wins and dominated the football scene in the area for many years. Behind legendary coach Dick Armstrong and then his disciple, Mark Perry, the Panthers relied on old-school, smash-mouth power football to pile up wins and titles for the past 50 seasons. Wins, however, were tough to come by lately and Snohomish turned to first-year coach Kai Smalley and his modern spread offense.
The change lit a spark under the Panther Nation. The euphoria lasted about 10 minutes into Friday’s game.
Oak Harbor, behind dominant line play, manhandled the Panthers. The Wildcats rushed for 448 yards, thanks to a push up front that led to Dejon Devroe’s 220 yards and Julian Faralan’s 132. Gage Eccleston also rushed for 69 yards.
The game answered a few questions for the Oak Harbor coaching staff.
Head coach Jay Tuner said, “We are so young. During warm ups I looked out and noticed we had more sophomores on the field than seniors. But the bright Friday night lights didn’t cause any problems.”
The Wildcats returned a veteran line, but all of the skill players were untested. The newbies passed the exam.
Along with the efforts of first-time starters Devroe and Faralan, new quarterback Clay Doughty hit 6-of-11 passes for 90 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Another rookie, Dyllan Harris, caught three of the passes for 70 yards and a score.
Much of the credit needs to go to the not-so-new interior line of Tyler Adamson, Jackson Constant, Matt Zafra, Ray Quinday and Blaine Coleman -- with an assist from tight ends Troy Sturdevant and Rhys Mattila.
After holding Snohomish to one first down to start the game, Oak Harbor went 71 yards in 2:30 for the game’s first score. Faralan’s 26-yard run put the ball inside the 20, and then Sturdevant out-wrestled a Snohomish DB on Doughty’s first varsity pass for a 13-yard score. Mark Johnston kicked the first of five extra points.
What happened next may have been the most important series of the game.
The Panthers returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the Oak Harbor 6. A second down run put the ball on the 1. Twice Oak Harbor stuffed the run and took over on downs. The once jazzed Panthers took a psychological hit, then another when Oak Harbor marched 80 yards in nine minutes to go up 10-0 on Johnson’s 25-yard field goal.
The drive included converting, by inches, on a fourth-and-1 at the Oak Harbor 26.
The Oak Harbor defense continued to haunt Snohomish and stopped the Panthers on fourth-and-1 at the Snohomish 48.
Faralan picked up 36 yards on four carries, Devroe scored from the 4 and Oak Harbor led 17-0 with 4:32 left in the half.
Oak Harbor’s game wasn’t flawless. Snohomish was able to complete several long passes; the first was for a 49-yard score with 1:45 left in the half. The 2-point PAT pass made it 17-8.
Undeterred, Oak Harbor struck right back. Devroe returned the kick off 40 yards to the Snohomish 45.
During the quick drive, he tacked on a 17-yard run and Harris covered 22 yards on a double reverse. With 15 second remaining, Harris and a Snohomish defensive back locked up in a simultaneous catch in the end zone that resulted in a 22-yard Oak Harbor score, and the ‘Cats led 24-8 at the break.
Oak Harbor turned the ball over on downs to begin the second half, and two plays later Snohomish scored on a 43-yard pass, making it 24-14.
Again Oak Harbor responded, driving 80 yards in six minutes. The key play was a 36-yard Doughty to Harris pass to help overcome a holding penalty. Faralan scored from the 5.
It was three-and-out for Snohomish, and on third-and-6 from the Oak Harbor 9, Harris bolted 91-yards on the second play of the fourth quarter for Oak Harbor’s final score.
Snohomish scored with 1:40 left to finish the scoring.
Mattila led the Oak Harbor defense with six tackles, one for a loss, and a sack. Ben Danielson and Sturdevant also had sacks. Adamson, Devroe, Chris Humphries and Zach Jones all had a tackle for a loss. Sturdevant finished with five tackles, and Eccleston, Harris, Savion Hollins-Passmore and Nathanael Stanford had four each.
Turner noted the defensive stats were “not real impressive as we were not on defense much of the game.” The Panthers had only 45 snaps to 72 for Oak Harbor.
Turner said, “We handled the adversity well; that is what the coaches were most pleased about. This is a great group of kids. We don’t have any stars, just a bunch of guys who want to play.”
The competition will pick up the next two weeks when Oak Harbor meets 4A schools Arlington and Lake Stevens in nonleague games. Lake Stevens and Arlington were predicted to finish 1-2 in the Wesco 4A North in the preseason coaches’ poll.
The Eagles come to Oak Harbor a 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, before the Wildcats travel to Lake Stevens the following Friday.