In a classic 8-man football matchup between Mossyrock and Winlock Friday night, it was defense — yes, you read that right — that made the final difference in a 42-40 victory for the Cardinals at home.
Facing an eight-point deficit after a Nolan Swofford 2-yard touchdown, Mossyrock had to go the length of the field. After a couple of first downs, and facing fourth-and-five, quarterback Easton Kolb threw a prayer down the middle of the field to brother Keegan Kolb, who caught it and ran it the rest of the way to bring the deficit down to two with minutes remaining.
It was Keegan Kolb’s fourth touchdown of the night, as the junior caught 12 passes for 262 yards and all their touchdowns through the air.
Disheartened after giving up their only score of the second half, the Cardinals defense locked up. Looking to tie it up, Easton Kolb threw a lob toward the corner pylon, but stepping up to make the deciding play was Winlock defensive back Payton Sickles, who snatched the ball out of the air to give the Cardinals a big league victory.
“I was just excited,” Swofford said. “My mind immediately turned to the next play, the kick return, I was kind of stressed. When we recovered I knew it was over, and I had that relief.”
Though the defenses came to play in the second half, it was the offensive showcase everyone was expecting in the first half. Both squads went back and forth during the first 30 minutes, where at the break Mossyrock led Winlock 34-30.
Then the Cardinals went to their ground game, and instead of relying on the big play, salted away a lot of clock with Swofford punching in two scores and the defense only allowing the one late score at the end of the fourth quarter.
A lot of that adjustment went into stopping the Vikings passing attack, led by the Kolb brothers.
“We were bracketing [Kolb], really pushing him and focusing on that,” Cardinals coach Ernie Samples said. “Nolan Swofford played a great game inside, shutting down the run, and we stepped up.”
After a quiet first half, the Cardinals went to their bellcow in the second, with Swofford rushing for 139 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns. After quarterback Neal Patching got the offense going in the first half, with 133 yards and two touchdowns, Swofford took advantage of the adjusting defense in the second half.
“Nolan has a big target on his back and his chest, and that bodes well for Patching,” Samples said. “That’s a great combo, we have the thunder and lightning with those two and then a slash guy with Payton Sickles outside.”
Patching echoed the sentiment, saying that one of the reasons he got going in the first half was because of the attention Swofford drew.
“He’s a workhorse, I couldn’t do anything I do without him,” Patching said. “He’s mentally and physically tougher than anyone I’ve ever met.”
The win for the Cardinals puts them in good position to feature with the second best record in league if they keep their strong play up, with just one loss this season to Naselle.
On the other sideline, it was the little things that added up in the Vikings’ fourth defeat this season.
“We just couldn’t get our run game going and became one-dimensional,” Vikings coach Eric Ollikainen said. “I didn’t do a good enough job getting our guys ready. And hats off to Winlock. They capitalized on our mistakes and deserved to win the game.”
Running through a gauntlet of a schedule, with losses to Lummi, Wahkiakum, Naselle, and now Winlock, the Vikings still have their heads high looking to earn a spot in the crossover. Mossyrock (2-4, 1-2 in league) travels to Taholah for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday where it’ll look to rebound.