Wolves defenseless in 35-33 loss

D.J. Sigurdson knew there would be plenty of questions to be answered in South Kitsap’s season opening football game Monday night. He just didn’t think by game’s end there would be so many lingering ones about his team’s defense.

But after watching Mercer Island roll up 333 yards of total offense, 290 of that coming on the ground, and outpoint South Kitsap 35-33 in the final game of the Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Qwest Field in Seattle, the questions were there.

And plenty of them.

“We scored enough points to win the football game,” the ninth-year head coach at South said. “But we have some real questions to figure out on defense. I didn’t expect this especially after our offense played as solid as it did. Obviously we didn’t play well enough on defense to win the ball game. We gotta learn how to close it out; we have to learn how to do that.”

The Wolves’ poor defensive play overshadowed an offense that was nicely balanced and moved the ball at will, at times. About the only thing to slow South down was a case of fumblitis that led to three of the team’s four turnovers on the night.

The Wolves showed plenty of offensive spark in taking a quick 20-7 lead behind the steady hand of quarterback Kyle Pease, some big returns by their special teams and a running back by committee. The Wolves opened up the offense early and often and ended the night with 326 total yards with an additional 196 coming from the return team.

“I thought we were going to do so well after that start,” junior tailback/defensive back Cory Dame said. “We started out with a lot of pressure, we pushed real hard and got the ball down the field. We did what we had to do.”

Pease was sharp in completing 11 of 18 passes for 122 yards while the running back tandem of Michael Pulkrabek, Dame, Anthony Catalano and Stephan Tucker combined for 204 yards on 47 tries.

“I think it’s a good idea, we’re not going to make up for an Anthony Galloway (South’s leading rusher last year with more than 1,400 yards) but with all us it means we have a lot of fresh legs coming in there any time it’s needed,” Dame said. “You can rely on anyone of us so it’s a good thing to have us all ready.”

And the numbers were evenly distributed between the four: Pulkrabek rushed for 55 yards on 15 carries while Dame went for 61 yards on 11 tries and scored twice. Catalano picked up 30 yards on four carries and Tucker, just a sophomore, carried six times for 31 yards.

And all of them, which are underclassmen, played key roles in not only getting South off to a fast start but keeping the Wolves in the game late.

But each time South walked down the field to score, Mercer Island, a Class 3A school that went 2-8 last year, would answer.

Using plenty of fakes and misdirection plays, the Islanders had the Wolves off balance all night, picking up yards inside as well as outside. Morgan Anthony led the way for Mercer Island with 164 yards on 14 carries and scored three times, his 43-yard TD run with 2:12 left sealed coach Dick Nicholl’s 150th career win, while Alex Holland picked up 97 yards on 12 tries.

“It was a perimeter that was screwed up, so the front played OK,” Sigurdson said of his defense. “We just didn’t adjust properly to what they were doing to us on the perimeter – that’s what killed us.”

But while the defense was giving up a few big plays it made a few of it’s own to keep the game tight.

Senior defensive lineman Kyle Saltsgaver forced a fumble in the end zone that Dame recovered for a score to pull SK within 28-26 midway through the third quarter before making a great individual play that helped set up a third and impossible for the Islanders on their next drive.

South took over on its own 38-yard line still trailing by two and methodically moved the ball down field, using 15 plays to work itself into a first-and-goal from at the one yard line. But four plays later, Mercer Island had the ball back after a quarterback sneak by Pease came up short.

“They did exactly what we knew they’d do, what they did in practice basically,” Saltsgaver said. “At the goal line, we didn’t execute and that’s what killed us. But we’ll be better next week.”

The Islanders upped the lead to 35-26 a few minutes later when Anthony scored from 43 yards out but South moved quickly down field and pulled back within two when Dame scored for third time. But an onside kick with just :15 seconds remaining failed and the Islanders ran out the clock.

“There’s stuff that we can fix and that’s what practices are for,” Dame said. “We’re going to learn to get better – we didn’t start out on the best note but we’ve got all season to improve.”

As bad as the loss may be, the Wolves have little time to dwell on it. Mountain View, the 10th ranked team in Class 4A comes to town Saturday for a 6 p.m. showdown and South will have its work cut out in order to avoid a second-straight 0-2 start.

“Trust me, they know what went on out there tonight,” Sigurdson said of Mountain View, “and they’re going to try to do the same exact thing to us.”

Game notes: South started off the game with an onside kick that fooled everyone in the stadium when kicker Peter Guerrero fell on the ball. Seven plays and 49 yards later, South led 7-0. The Wolves also ran a reverse on a kickoff return and lined up in the old T-formation a couple of times on offense.

The SK-MI game was the fifth and final game of the Kickoff Classic. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced a paid attendance of 7,483 for the five-games, far below the more than 25,000 that attended last year’s Classic.

The loss marks the third season-opening loss in a row for the Wolves. South lost at Snohomish two years ago and dropped the opener last year at Lincoln.

Junior lineman Renard Williams missed the game with a broken wrist but is expected back for the Narrows League opener at Port Angeles Sept. 16. Senior WR/DB Maguel Peredo also missed the game with an injury to his clavicle.

The Issaquah-Mission Viejo contest that preceded South’s was to be the showcase game of the day but turned out to be a bust as the team from California, ranked anywhere from No. 1 to No. 4 in the nation, raced out to a 48-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 55-36 win.

Mercer Island 35, South Kitsap 33

Score by quarters

South Kitsap 14 6 6 7 – 33

Mercer Island 7 14 7 7 – 35

Scoring Summary

SK – Cory Dame 1 run (Peter Guerrero kick)

MI – Alex Holland 2 run (Alex Haas kick)

SK – Kyle Pease 9 run (Guerrero kick)

SK – Tony Larsson 12 pass from Pease (kick failed)

MI – Morgan Anthony 14 run (Haas kick)

MI – Holland 5 run (Haas kick)

MI – Anthony 20 run (Haas run)

SK – Dame recovered fumble in end zone (run failed)

MI – Anthony 43 run (Haas kick)

SK – Dame 6 run (Guerrero kick)

Team statistics

South Kitsap Mercer Island

First downs 22 15

Rushes-yards 47-204 35-290

Passing yards 122 43

Passes 11-18-1 3-4-1

Return yards 196 99

Punts-Avg. 0-0 1-32.0

Fumbles-Lost 5-3 1-1

Penalties 5-48 10-79

Time of possession 29:14 18:46

Individual statistics

Rushing: South Kitsap – Michael Pulkrabek 15-55; Dame 11-61; Anthony Catalano 4-30; Chad Fowler 4-2; Pease 7-25; Stephan Tucker 6-31. Mercer Island – Anthony 14-164; Holland 12-97; Kenny Kim 7-32; Alex Thomas 1-(-1); Joe Fronk 1-(-2).

Passing: South Kitsap – Pease 11-18-1, 122, 1TD; Fronk 3-4-1, 43.

Receiving: Fowler 1-9; Monte Enyeart 3-49; Jesse Galligan 3-34; Larson 1-12; Jason Read 1-3; David Parker 2-15. Mercer Island – Jeremy Spektor 2-51; Eric Morse 1-(-8).

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