LAKEWOOD — It was a nail-biter of a game, to be sure. It just wasn’t the type of nail-biter anyone expected from THIS game.
Napavine came in averaging just over 50 points a game. Kalama was averaging just under 47 points a game.
So it was a little puzzling, and a testament to the defenses on display, when Napavine wound up on the short end of a 16-14 final score in the 2B state football championships on a cold, drizzly Saturday at Harry Lang Stadium.
“It was kind of ugly. I mean, it was a good football game, and I think Sean (McDonald, Kalama’s coach) would say the same thing,” Napavine coach Josh Fay said. “But maybe not. It was not what I expected. I thought both offenses could be a little crisper.”
There was plenty of supporting evidence in just the first quarter. Kalama lost 12 yards on its first play — which hasn’t happened often this season with senior quarterback Jackson Esary, the odds-on favorite for 2B Player of the Year, running the show.
The Chinooks quickly punted. Napavine, with good field position, then had a pass intercepted in the end zone by Max Cox.
It was that type of game, on both sides. Cox went on to pick two more passes, the last of which sealed the game with just over a minute left to play.
Esary was routinely flushed out of the pocket and running from two or three defenders, but still finished 18 of 26 passing for 216 yards and a touchdown. The degree of difficulty involved wasn’t reflected in that stat line.
His touchdown pass in the second quarter, after he ran out of the pocket and found Jack Doerty sliding across the end zone for a 21-yard pickup. He attempted a pass with his left hand while under pressure in the fourth quarter, but ducked a trio of tacklers to find Brady O’Neil with a floating, off-balance pass with three minutes left to go that set up the Chinooks’ go-ahead touchdown (which he ran in himself).
Outside of that fourth-quarter payoff on the scramble, though, the defense was about as sound as can be expected. Gavin Parker recorded four tackles for loss, Cael Stanley added two more, and Esary finished with just 13 rushing yards on 24 carries.
“For the most part I thought we did a real nice job on the back end,” Fay said. “There’s a couple tackles we missed that I would have liked to have, but Jackson in the backfield — he’s a great football player, and that’s how it goes.”
Mario’s Big Play
Fittingly enough, the Tigers’ 7-6 lead at halftime came courtesy of its defense. Napavine came up short on a fourth-and-three inside the Chinooks’ 10-yard line to turn the ball over early in the second quarter, and on the next play Esary dropped back and tossed a swing pass to his right.
Only it didn’t get there. Mario Lara, a defensive lineman, jumped the backfield passing lane and snagged the ball right around the goal line to fall in for a touchdown.
“Great football player. Great kid, and that was a big play,” Fay said of the 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior. “We said, ‘Somebody’s got to make a big play.’ Mario’s made big plays for us, but that’s certainly his biggest play.”
Strong Run for Seniors
The Tiger seniors wrapped their prep football careers with everything but (officially) a state championship. Napavine lost to Kalama, 34-25, in the 2018 state finals, lost a tight semifinal to the Chinooks in 2019, and beat Onalaska in the final game of the “2020” season in March.
“These guys have had a good career,” Fay said. “We got COVIDed last year, which wasn’t a lot of fun. I thought we had a really good team last year.”
The senior class included SWW 2B League North MVPs Keith Olson (offense) and Gavin Parker (defense), along with Ashtin Landry, Glade Shannon, Lucas Dahl, Peyton League, Khalil ell, Jadon Tabor, Brayden Thompson, Scott Burdick and Deven Searles.
In four years, the group has posted a combined record of 37-7.
“They’ve certainly won a lot more than they’ve lost,” Fay added.