Wolves open with heartbreaking loss

Going into the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead is like money in the bank for a team as traditionally stingy on defense as South Kitsap.

But Snohomish made a last-second withdrawal from that account on Friday night, courtesy of a 17-yard touchdown strike with five ticks left on the clock to lift the Panthers to a 28-26 win in the Wolves’ season opener.

“Their quarterback is a great player,” said SK Coach D.J. Sigurdson. “He made some great plays when he had to. Obviously we didn’t.”

Snohomish had absorbed a season-opening 30-0 drubbing a week earlier against Kimiakin. But Sigurdson had predicted the Wolves wouldn’t have as easy a time against the Panthers. Where Kimiakin had exploited its superior numbers at the skill positions, the Wolves spent their evening going toe-to-toe against the vastly bigger Snohomish team.

The strategy almost worked, but it resulted the Wolves wearing down in the closing minutes with the game on the line.

Until that point, it appeared the only thing that could stop the Wolves was their own penchant for mistakes. On just the second possession of the game, SK punter Patrick Kelly had to drop to one knee to field a low snap, and the officials called the play dead there, giving Snohomish possession on the Wolves’ 26.

On third down, Panther quarterback Jeff Rodland eluded a sack, scrambled to his right and found Josh Roberts for a 26-yard scoring strike to put Snohomish ahead 7-0.

Two series later, the Wolves recovered a fumble on the Snohomish 16. A procedure penalty set them back five yards on first down but three runs by Jon Shepherd set the Wolves up with a first and goal at the Panther two-yard line.

Another procedure penalty pushed them back to the seven and a sack on Wolves’ quarterback Tommy Patrick forced SK to settle for a Shannon Haney 34-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter.

Five minutes later SK corner Craig Senter picked off Panther backup quarterback Kurt Mansell at the Wolves’ 46, and the Wolves quickly drove to the Snohomish 25. Shepherd then took a handoff and weaved through the Panther defense for an apparent go-ahead touchdown, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty.

Undaunted, the Wolves drove back down to the Snohomish 10, but another motion penalty on second down killed the drive and SK had to settle for another field goal.

The Wolves regained possession on their own 33 with 1:38 remaining in the half and finally put together a sustained drive, even benefiting from an offsides penalty against the Panthers — their first flag of the game — with 35 seconds left in the half to move the Wolves to the Snohomish 45.

On the next play, Haney sprinted 45 yards down the right sideline for a score. When the two-point conversion failed, the Wolves had a 12-7 lead at the half despite having committed several games’ worth of mistakes.

“Every time it looked like we had something going, we’d shoot ourselves in the foot,” Sigurdson said. “We’re still a little immature in that regard.”

The Wolves appeared to right their ship in a hurry when Kelly hauled in the second-half kickoff and burst untouched 89 yards right up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Haney’s conversion put SK on top 19-7 just 13 seconds into the third quarter.

Now all that remained was for the Wolves’ vaunted defense to assert itself. Instead, the Panthers took the ensuing kickoff and marched 71 yards in 11 plays and burning 5:21 off the clock before Rodland capped the drive with a one-yard plunge to shave SK’s lead to 19-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter.

The two teams traded punts before Shepherd recovered a Snohomish fumble at the Panther 31. Another holding penalty on the Wolves killed the drive, however, and SK was forced to try a 45-yard field goal, which came up far short.

SK redeemed itself on the Panthers’ next possession, as Rodland, trying to convert a third-and-11, lofted a screen pass directly into the arms of SK’s Jeff Coulon, who returned the gift 15 yards for a score to match the Wolves’ biggest lead of the game, at 26-24, at the end of the third quarter.

With its back against the wall, though, Snohomish again responded with an impressive drive. Starting from their own 28 yard line, the Panthers used six straight running plays to move into SK territory. On a third and five from the 46, Rodland carried out a play-action fake and just eluded being sacked before spotting wide receiver Pat Job behind the Wolves’ secondary.

Job hauled in Rodland’s bomb and the Wolves saw their lead shrink to 26-21 with nine and a half minutes to play.

The Wolves went three-and-out on their next series — which featured a delay of game penalty — and punted the ball to the hungry Panthers.

With 7:45 remaining, Snohomish used seven straight running plays to move from its own 37 to the South Kitsap 27 in three minutes. On second and five Rodland looked for a score but SK linebacker Chris Anderson tipped his pass away at the goal line.

Two downs later, Rodland again went deep but Kelly, locked in single coverage against Patrick Reinhard, batted the ball down and gave possession back to the Wolves with 3:22 remaining.

Again, however, SK couldn’t muster a first down and the Panthers downed Kelly’s punt at midfield with 1:12 to play.

Rodland kept the ensuing drive alive on third down by connecting with Reinhard on an inside screen pass for 15 yards. A catch by tight end Adam Heater was followed by another completion to Reinhard, who scampered out of bounds at the SK 16 with 20 seconds left.

On first down, Kelly again swatted away a Rodland pass in the end zone, leaving the Panthers just 20 seconds and no time outs.

As was the case on Snohomish’s first two scoring passes, Rodland narrowly missed being sacked just as SK’s Haney appeared to have him in his crosshairs. But the Panther quarterback pivoted and scrambled back to his right, giving himself plenty of time to scour the field for an open receiver.

In this case, it happened to be Job standing alone on the back of the end zone who gathered in the pass to put Snohomish ahead 27-26 with just five seconds on the clock.

The point after made it 28-26 and the Wolves had endured their first regular season loss since 2001.

“We need to do a better job of concentrating than we did tonight,” Sigurdson said. “We made a ton of mistakes, but you can’t take anything away from (Snohomish). It was a great game and they just beat us.”

SK’s Shepherd gained 72 yards on 16 carries, while Haney added 65 yards and kicked a pair of field goals.

But the SK defense surrendered 306 yards on the ground — including 110 to Casey Fortin — as well as Rodland’s efforts through the air.

“(Snohomish) is a lot better team than when I watched them last week,” Sigurdson said. “They got better in a lot of areas in a short period of time. That’s what we have to do now.”

The Wolves travel to Bremerton on Friday in their Narrows League opener.

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