The Wildcat bench watches as TJ Hollins-Passmore dives in the end zone with the game-tying touchdown. (Photo by John Fisken)

A thrill a minute: Wildcats weather Storm 21-20 / Football

It’s a game of inches.

It’s better to be lucky than good.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Revenge is sweet.

You make your own luck.

The language of sports is littered with clichés, but sometimes, for the lack of an original phrase, they hit the mark.

Such was the case in Oak Harbor High School’s 21-20 win in football over Squalicum Friday, Sept. 29, at Wildcat Memorial Stadium.

TJ Hollins-Passmore scored from 11 yards out with 1:34 left in the game to tie the contest, then Jordan Bell booted the extra point to give the Wildcats their only lead of the night – the only lead they needed.

The loss was the second in a row for the defending Wesco North champions after not losing a regular-season game since September of 2014.

That first loss dropped the Storm, who were ranked as high as fourth in one poll, to 10th in the state AP 3A rankings. Last week, Oak Harbor, unbeaten in four games, appeared in the poll for the first time this season, sitting at ninth.

Oak Harbor, now 2-0 in league and 5-0 overall, plays winless Getchell (0-3, 0-5) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

Now, let’s get back to the world of clichés.

It’s a game of inches.

With 6:13 left in the fourth quarter, Squalicum scored to take a 20-14 lead. A high snap on the extra point threw off the timing of kicker Alex Everett, and his attempt hit the right upright, bounced off the cross bar and then fell back into the field of play.

In a game of important plays, a string of big ones came in the Storm’s previous possession early in the final period. Squalicum faced a second-and-one at the Oak Harbor 9-yard line. First, the Wildcats dropped Storm quarterback Spencer Lloyd for a 2-yard loss.

Lloyd ran again, this time for 2.99 yards. A measurement revealed he was a inch short of a first down.

He ran again on fourth down and was stone-walled by Oak Harbor’s Aaron Martinez and Michael Fisken.

It’s better to be lucky than good.

Let’s jump right back to the just-mentioned second-and-one play at the Wildcat 9. Squalicum’s talented running back Triston Smith had carried for nine yards to set up the situation. He was also hurt on the play and was finished for the night. With Smith out, Squalicum turned to Lloyd to bull for the first down and failed.

Squalicum took the opening kickoff and, with surprising ease against a stout Oak Harbor defense, marched 63 yards in eight plays to go up 7-0.

Then, after forcing the Wildcats to give up the ball on downs, again zipped through the Oak Harbor defense, this time earning a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. A bobbled exchange resulted in a fumble recovered by Wildcat Nathaniel Nunez.

Instead of a morale-crushing touchdown, Squalicum offered Oak Harbor some hope. The Wildcats turned the handout into a 97-yard touchdown drive. Aaron Martinez ran in from the 3-yard line; the PAT kick failed, but Oak Harbor was back in the game 7-6.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The long touchdown march restored Oak Harbor’s confidence. Squalicum quickly tried to snuff it out. Just three plays after the Wildcat score, the Storm completed a 62-yard halfback pass that gave them a 14-6 lead.

Oak Harbor battled back. It drove 50 yards but turned the ball over on downs just before the end of the half. Undeterred, the Wildcats began the second half with an 80-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard Martinez run. Jordan Bell, under heavy pressure, found Taeson Hardin open in the end zone for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 14.

Revenge is sweet.

Squalicum thrashed Oak Harbor 47-20 last year. Wildcat coach Jay Turner said the team never discussed the revenge factor during practice this week. The win, however, certainly “felt good,” he added.

Bell, on the other hand, avenged his own personal demons. The Wildcat quarterback is also the team’s place kicker. When he missed the extra-point boot after Oak Harbor’s first touchdown, that was his third consecutive miss. All those miscues came in less-than-tense situations. With 94 seconds remaining in the Squalicum game and the score tied, there was no doubt that this was a high-stakes kick. He cleanly sailed it home.

“The coach had confidence in me,” Bell said. “I made big plays before, like those fourth downs, so I knew I could do it.”

In the game winning drive that set up Bell’s successful kick, he scrambled for seven yards on a fourth-and-four play that kept Oak Harbor in the game. In Oak Harbor’s conference opening win at Stanwood two weeks ago, he broke open a tied game in the fourth quarter by running for and passing for touchdowns on fourth-down plays.

You make your own luck.

Oak Harbor received a few breaks in the game, but the Wildcats simply executed better than the Storm.

Squalicum came into the game averaging 45.5 points per game, second best among Washington 3A schools.

Oak Harbor made some defensive adjustments at halftime, Turner said, and “that helped a little bit.” More than a little. The Storm finished with 322 yards of offense, but less than a third of that came in the final two quarters.

Smith, though he missed 10 minutes, was held to well under his season average of 228 yards per game and 11.4 yards per carry, ending with 105 yards on 14 runs.

“It was a team effort,” Turner said. “The kids battled.”

Because of formation problems during the second half, the Storm burned all three of their timeouts early and had none left when they got the ball back with 1:25 left in the game after Oak Harbor’s final score. That became a moot point when Mac Carr intercepted Lloyd’s first pass in the attempted comeback and returned it to the Squalicum 3-yard line.

Oak Harbor out gained Squalicum 370-322 and was also able to keep the Storm offense off the field by running 71 plays to 46 for the visitors from Bellingham.

Mac Nuanez helped Oak Harbor control the ball with 104 yards on 25 carries. Hardin added 83 on 15 carries, Hollins-Passmore 69 on 10 and Martinez 61 on 12.

Bell completed three of eight passes for 48 yards.

The Wildcats had no turnovers to the Storm’s two.

Oak Harbor was resilient, going for it on fourth down eight times and converting only twice. One of the failures came at its own 30-yard line. The Wildcat defense held, stopping the Storm in four plays.

The defense stepped up. Sorry, another cliché. Hey, it is what it is.

 

Aaron Martinez bulls into the end zone for an Oak Harbor touchdown. (Photo by John Fisken)

Oak Harbor’s Mac Carr drags down Squalicum’s quarterback Spencer Lloyd. Later in the game, Carr intercepted a Lloyd pass to seal the win. (Photo by John Fisken)

Taeson Hardin sprints around the end for a chunk of yardage. (Photo by John Fisken)

Aaron Martinez (13) picks up yardage for Oak Harbor with the help of Brandon McCollough (58). (Photo by John Fisken)

In the next four photos, Oak Harbor’s TJ Hollins-Passmore splits two defenders to score the tying touchdown. (Photos by John Fisken)