With a fine mist hanging over the new artificial turf field in Belfair, Sequim’s Wolves were hoping they wouldn’t let a chance at their first league win slip through their collective fingers.
Fortunately for Sequim fans, Gavin Velarde wasn’t about to let that happen.
Velarde, the reigning Olympic League MVP, caught three first-half touchdowns and added a key interception return for a score as the Wolves survived a 38-19 league match-up over North Mason on Oct. 6.
Velarde had five catches for 159 yards as Sequim built a 30-13 lead by halftime, but it wasn’t until his pick-six with 5:27 left on the game clock that sealed it for the Wolves.
“He’s definitely a good athlete,” Sequim coach Erik Wiker said. “He excels when he has the ball in his hands.”
The play came two possessions after the Sequim secondary allowed North Mason’s Shawn Ward to close the gap with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Austin Knight on a third-and-23 play.
The 5-foot 9-inch, 160-pound receiver/defensive back put an end to the Bulldogs’ comeback hopes after Ward flung an ill-advised pass midway through the fourth quarter, with Velarde racing 42 yards to paydirt.
“I catch that ball, I want to score every time,” he said.
It was the Bulldogs’ inability to hang onto the ball on a slick, wet Friday night that led to Sequim’s first score. After forcing the Wolves to punt, North Mason couldn’t hang onto the kick, and on the next play Sequim quarterback Riley Cowan found Velarde deep down the middle for a 38-yard score and 8-0 Wolves lead.
North Mason’s next drive stalled, and on Sequim’s next offensive play Cowan once again found Velarde streaking away from Bulldog defenders — this time from 28 yards out — and a 15-0 Sequim lead just 2:48 into the game.
The Cowan-Velarde combo hooked up again 23 seconds into the second quarter, with Velarde taking a short screen pass and racing 65 yards for the score.
The Bulldogs battled back behind a big offensive line and stout running from junior Dylan Tupolo. The 6-1, 245-pound running back ran for 120 of his 144 yards in the first half, setting up Reese Smelcer’s three-yard score in the second quarter to close the gap to 23-7.
Tupolo added another score on North Mason’s next drive to trim Sequim’s lead to 23-13, and the Bulldogs looked to take the game’s momentum into halftime after intercepting Cowan with little time left in the second quarter. Kyler Rollness, however, picked off a Ward pass two plays later.
Cowan then found Jarrett Allen for a 33-yard pass play and the Sequim quarterback dove in for a one-yard score just before the halftime whistle, putting Sequim ahead 30-13.
Sequim’s bend-but-not-break defense came up with big stops when it needed to in the second half, minus Ward’s touchdown toss.
Wiker, frustrated at times with his players for not wrapping up on tackles while trying to bring down Tupolo and other Bulldogs, said having inexperience — i.e. four or five freshmen on defense — played a role.
Cowan finished 10-of-24 for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Hayden Gresli had 43 yards on eight rushes while Velarde added 35 rushing yards.
Velarde said the Wolves could use some togetherness as they look to their final three games of the regular season and a shot at the West Central District playoffs
Sequim celebrates its 2017 Homecoming festivities with a match-up against Olympic High on Oct. 13; game time is 7 p.m.
The Trojans (2-2, 303) are coming off a 46-12 win at Kingston.
“Olympic will be a lot tougher than this (North Mason) team,” Wiker said.
In 2016, Sequim dominated the Trojans, 48-26.
Sequim is at Port Angeles Oct. 20 and closes the regular season with a home date against the Kingston Buccaneers.