Saints' playoff hopes all but gone

Behind talented depth on both sides of the ball, the West Sound Saints once dominated most of the Northwest Football League.

But two years after winning the North American Football League 2 championship, the Saints are nowhere near dominating the competition. Partially because of four suspended players, their depth is so poor that linebackers are masquerading as defensive linemen.

And a last-place finish now looks more probable than a playoff berth after the Saints lost 18-12 against the Pierce County Bengals Saturday at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner.

“I believe there was a lot of poor football fundamentals that just seemed to come back to haunt us,” said West Sound coach John Corey, adding that depth has become problematic on the defensive line and has resulted in some offensive linemen playing both positions. “Again, I go to the practices and when you start losing it just seems like you get less and less people there.”

It appeared West Sound might be able to comeback when Bengals running back Steven Parley was stopped to set up fourth-and-five on their own 47-yard line with 46.5 seconds remaining in the game. But the Saints’ bench was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which gave the ball back to Pierce County and allowed it to run out the clock.

“We’re trying to get them away from that part of the game,” Corey said. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to control and I know coaches and management are going to have a meeting.”

Perhaps just as significantly, it might have ended any playoff hopes for the Saints even with three of their final four regular-season games at home. West Sound (1-5) now has lost three consecutive games since a 37-10 win June 23 against the Willamette Raiders.

But unlike their previous loss — a 55-14 defeat July 14 against next week’s opponent, the King County Jaguars — the Saints had plenty of opportunities to earn their first road win of the season.

They took a 2-0 lead with 4:14 left in the first quarter when quarterback Anthony Rios was sacked for a safety. That set up West Sound’s next possession on their own 48 and it looked like they might increase their lead until Brandon Pedersen, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown, was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Woodrow Wilson.

Pierce County (3-3) needed just five plays on the ensuing drive to take a 6-2 lead when Rios found former Washington State University walk-on wide receiver Jessie Baines for a 45-yard touchdown pass.

The Saints again appeared to regain the momentum on the next drive when Pedersen found Ramon Martinez for a 23-yard completion on fourth-and-12 to take them down to the Bengals’ 4. But the Saints were forced to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Nick Obrastoff with 6:54 left in the second quarter and trailed 6-5 at halftime.

“When we get down there, we’ve got to expect to score,” Pedersen said. “When we’re down late in the game, we’ve got to expect touchdowns, not field goals. Right now there’s a big wall and we’ve got to find a way to get through it.”

Execution issues shifted from the offense to the defense in the third quarter. Pierce County faced a third-and-20 at the West Sound 32 on its opening possession of the second half. But a pass-interference call eventually led to a six-yard touchdown pass from Rios to Jerad English.

“Again, those are such judgment calls,” Corey said. “In my eyes, I see it’s a tipped ball so it doesn’t matter if they collide. The referee felt the collision was first before he touched the ball. Without instant replay, we just have to accept their call.”

Following a short series by the Saints, Pierce County again took advantage of a penalty — a personal foul — to move down to the West Sound 29. Two plays later, Rios found English to move to the Saints’ 1 and Baines scored his second touchdown on a fourth-down pitch to give the Bengals an 18-5 lead with 2:06 left in the third quarter.

The Saints had another scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter at the Bengals’ 22, but Pedersen was intercepted by linebacker David Combs. West Sound was stronger on its next possession when it used a pair of 10-yard runs by South Kitsap graduate Anthony Galloway, who ran for 45 yards on 12 carries, and a personal-foul penalty against the Bengals to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Pedersen to Ramon Martinez with 3:05 left.

With three timeouts left, Corey elected against an onside kick and the Saints never had the ball again.

“We’ve had (onside kick) bite us in the gluteus maximus,” said Corey, adding he wanted the kickoff to go toward the sideline and give the Bengals poor field position. “We’ve tried that before and then sometimes if we don’t recover it, it puts them in good field position.”

But even before the penalty, the Saints couldn’t stop Pierce County on third-and-two as Parlay gained four yards.

“I’ve always said our defense could stop that big run, but unfortunately we had some breakdowns and we have a lot of players playing both ways,” Corey said. “They would stop a big play and fatigue would come in and they would give up a big play.”

The quest doesn’t figure to become any easier with another game against the undefeated Jaguars at 6 p.m. Saturday at Silverdale Stadium.

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