The Olympic Peninsula Eagles opened the 2010 campaign in fine fashion Saturday evening, topping the Snohomish Thunder 21-8 at Sequim High School stadium.
Eric Johnson Jr. returned two interceptions for touchdowns and added a third late in the game to seal the win.
"We looked good," coach Mike McMahan said following the contest. "I really liked our defense. It's a complicated system (but) our guys seemed to pick it up."
With both teams searching to find some sort of offensive rhythm, Johnson Jr. made his mark. With the Thunder driving deep into Eagle territory with four minutes to go in the first half, Johnson Jr. snagged an errant Thunder pass at the Eagles' 20-yard line and raced down the right sideline to pay dirt for a 7-0 Olympic halftime lead.
The Clallam Bay grad made it 14-0 when he picked off another errant Thunder throw and raced 18 yards for a score.
"I couldn't get my picks without the defensive line," Johnson Jr. said. "We've got a good group of guys with a lot of heart."
Snohomish trimmed the lead to 14-8 later on in the third quarter on a 67-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion.
But the Eagle defense held tough and the offense came through with a long, time-draining drive capped by Ryan Swindler's 6-yard plunge with less than 12 minutes to go.
"We had the jitters of course," said Kenny Hall, a veteran of the Eagles team since its inception five years ago. The Sequim High grad now commutes from Ellensburg to the games.
"We're definitely an above-.500 team," Hall said. "We're going to take this (momentum) right into the playoffs."
With about 45 players on the roster, the semi-pro team looks to improve after struggling for the past two seasons.
McMahan said he was impressed and encouraged by a good fan turnout for Saturday's game and hopes to see even more fans on April 24 when the Eagles host the Washington Cavaliers of Tumwater.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.