The game started slowly for the Sequim Wolves, but by the time the final whistle blew they were in full control of their state playoff destiny, beating the River Ridge Hawks 37-21 in their West Central District 3 playoff game in Bremerton on Nov. 8.
The win helped earn Sequim earn its second state playoff appearance in as many years and with the No. 12 seed in the class 2A state tourney — the same rank that coach Wiker guessed his team might get after SHS’s district win — pits them against the fifth-seeded Lakewood at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Lakewood High School in Arlington.
River Ridge got off to a fast start in the district showdown last week, as star receiver Dontae Owens and running back Darion Brown both came up with first quarter big plays to post an early 14-0 lead while the Wolves struggled to get into the game.
But that momentum came to a halt thanks in large part to junior lineman Austin Newton, who got amped up in response to his team’s slow start. Getting into the backfield on almost every defensive play, Newton also blocked the point-after kick on River Ridge’s first touchdown and forced a fumble that the Wolves recovered deep in the Hawks’ half of the field to set up their go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter.
“(Austin was) player of the game in the first quarter alone,” Sequim head coach Erik Wiker said.
“He kept us in it, I think. He was making all those tackles — first quarter he was in on every tackle. And the turnover in the second quarter. Without him it could have gotten real ugly real quick.”
Ward also praised
Sequim junior running back Walker Ward earned praise from his coach after the game, racking up 164 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and adding two receptions for 40 yards and another touchdown.
The Wolves’ fortunes turned early in the second quarter when quarterback Taig Wiker got the offense rolling, completing three straight passes that finished with a 22-yard screen pass to Ward, who broke multiple tackles before crossing the goal line.
Hayden Eaton came up big to even the score, using his large frame to good effect with the Wolves in the red zone to ward off smaller defenders and haul in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Wiker.
The Wolves’ quarterback came up injured on the play, seeming to aggravate the left knee injury he’s been dealing with for much of the season. That didn’t stop him from coming up big just a few short minutes later, however. After Newton forced a fumble a few plays into the next River Ridge drive, the Sequim quarterback called his own number at the 1-yard line, breaking a tackle before wheeling away in celebration and giving his team a 21-14 lead going into halftime.
The lead was short-lived, however. River Ridge’s Owens ran the opening kickoff of the second half back 83 yards for a touchdown.
The Wolves responded with a drive that struggled for the same cohesion they’d showed in the second quarter, but managed to set up a rare field goal attempt — one that Garrett Hoesel converted easily for a 24-21 Sequim lead.
“That was good,” Wiker said after the game. “(Field goals are) not (usually) our best bet, so they may have thought it was a trick play so they didn’t rush it. That was a big tipping point too, going three up and not being stopped.”
With the Wolves figuring out how to stop the River Ridge running game, the Hawks were forced to rely more on their passing attack, something that Sequim’s secondary were waiting for. Even with starting cornerback Michael Young injured and Taig Wiker, a starting safety, sitting out most of the defensive snaps in the second half, Sequim’s passing defense still had the teeth to cause the Hawks a lot of issues.
Coming into the game with 13 interceptions on the season, River Ridge quarterback Jevon Brown threw three more — two to Eaton, another to Hoesel — and the Wolves’ defense clamped down for the remainder of the half.
The Wolves scored twice more during that run of defensive dominance to seal off the win — a 7-yard run from Wiker and a 2-yard run from Ward.
Lakewood’s Cougars, the Northwest Conference Sky League’s runner-up team, earned a 4-1 league record and an 8-1 overall mark under head coach Dan Teeter.
The Cougars’ star player is senior quarterback Jared Taylor, who has thrown for 962 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions, as well as running for 1,143 yards and 17 touchdowns, making him probably the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback the Wolves have faced so far this season.
Lakewood running backs Landen Pruitt and Malik Dotson have both run for more than 500 yards each as well, making them a strong test for Sequim’s top-notch run defense.
The Cougars have scored 32.4 points per game and given up 14.1 points per game, numbers that are slightly better than the Wolves’ output this season (29.8 points scored per game, 14.1 allowed per game).
The Wolves are chasing just their second ever state playoff game win, having beaten Burlington-Edison in 2009. This will is Sequim’s eighth trip to the tournament since Erik Wiker took over as head coach in 2004, and ninth overall in the program’s history.