Rainier ‘crumbles,’ drops first game since September


RAINIER — A battle for the top of the SWW 2B West Division on Friday didn’t look much like a battle of the two best teams in the league for a good deal of the night, but the Mountaineers made just a few more mistakes in a 21-12 loss to Wahkiakum.

“A couple things didn’t bounce our way, along with us not playing well,” Rainier coach Andy Bartell said. “It was just a bad game all-around for us. Probably the worst game we played all year.”

The Mountaineers (5-3, 3-1 C2B West) committed nine penalties on the night, four of which were of the 15-yard variety and six of which came in the second half.

“That’s something that we will address in practice, because that can’t happen,” Bartell said.

For all that — along with two interceptions — the Mountaineers held strong on defense, forcing two turnovers in the red zone in the first half and forcing four punts.

But therein lay the other sticking point, because when the Mules punted — or did just about anything else on special teams Friday night — they changed the game.

In total, Wahkiakum’s special teams unit ripped off a 65-yard punt, downed another punt inside the 1-yard line, kicked three extra points — while both of Rainier’s touchdowns were followed by unsuccessful conversion attempts — recovered a muffed punt, blocked a punt and recovered an onside kick.

“That’s another moment in the game that just kills you, right there,” Bartell said. “Those moments, all those little things add up, little things that get on your guys, and they just get deflated. The momentum just shifts.”

Rainier took the lead after a scoreless first quarter on a 7-yard sweep by Hunter Howell, but Wahkiakum came back to take the lead before the break, going into halftime up 7-6. The Mountaineers came back with a defensive stand in the third quarter and took the lead on a 1-yard Jake Meldrum sneak — set up by a 51-yard reverse to Josh Meldrum on third-and-17 — on the last play of the period.

In the fourth, though, it was all Wahkiakum. The Mules took the lead at 14-12  with just over six minutes left, and while Jayden Alegarbes took the ensuing kickoff all the way back to the Wahkiakum 9-yard line, the Mountaineers couldn’t get any further and turned it over on downs inside the 10.

After one last late hit penalty, Wahkiakum ripped off an 86-yard touchdown to put things just about out of reach.

Christopher Grey took 14 carries for 119 of Rainier’s 219 rushing yards. Jake Meldrum finished his evening 7 for 17 for 95 yards, while Josh Meldrum also threw the ball for 4 yards on a reverse play.

Rainier will wrap up its regular season against North Beach next week, with a crossover play-in spot still very much in reach — if the Mountaineers can get to work fixing what ailed them Friday.

“Our mental toughness, we’ve got to grow,” Bartell said. “It showed tonight, and we kind of crumbled a bit. We’ve got to get stronger that way.”