Wolves fumble season-opener

Turnovers, solid Forks defense stuns Sequim; Spartan QB Jaksha nearly perfect

For the first time in five years, Sequim football failed to claim an opening day victory.

A win against peninsula rival Forks both literally and figuratively slipped through the Wolves’ hands as the host Spartans blanked Sequim 19-0 on Sept. 5.

Forks quarterback Brien Jaksha completed his first seven passes for 128 yards and a touchdown while Colby Gagnon had a rushing touchdown and the game-clinching fumble recovery for a score, helping Forks win their first season opener in eight years.

"This is huge for us – we played an outstanding ball club in Sequim," Forks coach Ron Hurd said. "They came and hit and they’re a great-coached team, but … I’ve been telling (our players) that defense is going to win championships."

That Forks defense forced five Sequim fumbles and an interception, stopping the Wolves three times inside the Spartan 15-yard-line.

The loss seemed to befuddle Sequim head coach Erik Wiker, who was 2-0 against Forks coming into the game and had seen his Wolves shut out just one other time in 45 games spanning four seasons (at Bainbridge, Sept. 23, 2005).

"Our execution (was the problem)," Wiker said. "I honestly believe if we execute, we beat this team. This is a very tough team … (but) almost every stop was a turnover. We probably had more fumbles in this game than in the last two years combined. That’s hard to fathom."

That lack of execution came early and often, as Sequim allowed Forks to convert a third down-and-18; Jaksha threw to a wide-open Kenneth Hurn for 41 yards. Gagnon capped the opening drive with a three-yard plunge for a 7-0 Forks lead.

Sequim’s offense opened with a penalty and three-and-out series, then followed those with fumbles on three consecutive drives. The Wolves drew an unsportsmanlike penalty that killed their final first half drive.

Forks managed a score with 24 seconds left in the first half when Dixon took a third-down screen for 30 yards and found paydirt. The Spartans took a 13-0 lead into halftime.

"Our passing game has been improved a lot," coach Hurd said. "We probably completed more passes in this game than we did all of last year. We had to improve, to keep the pressure off Luke."

Sequim seemed to have the momentum reversed on their opening drive, however, when they turned to Isaac Yamamoto, a sophomore running back. On the eight-minute drive, Yamamoto carried the ball 14 times for 59 yards. But with Sequim threatening a first-and-goal at the five, the Spartan defense stiffened, forcing a turnover-on-downs at the 2-yard-line.

"That (goal-line stand) is where they’re going to end up winning games," Wiker said. "That’s them being finishers more than us at this point."

Dixon, the Spartan’s top back, found some more running room after being held to just 17 yards and a pair of fumbles in the first half. He had eight second-half carries for 49 yards as Forks seemed content to keep the ball on the ground and bleed the play clock.

The strategy worked; though Sequim’s defense held steady, the offense couldn’t finish. In the first drive of the fourth quarter, the Wolves marched to the Spartan 10-year-line, but Forks batted down a pair of Drew Rickerson passes in the end zone, forcing another turnover on downs.

Gagnon sealed the win when he picked up a late Sequim fumble and scampered 20 yards for the final score with two minutes left.

"It was a lot closer than that but we made it look bad," Wiker said. "I think we have to step up on the championship plays, like third downs."

Yamamoto finished with a team-high 76 yards rushing while Rickerson was 8-of-16 passing for 79 yards.

The Wolves take on another team that failed to score in their season opener: archrival Port Angeles. Playing at home, the Roughriders were roughed up by North Mason 41-0 on Sept. 5.

Forks, ranked sixth in the washingtonpreps.rivals.com preseason class 1A poll, travels to Port Townsend to take on Chimacum (0-1) the same night. Chimacum dropped a 13-8 decision to Kingston last Friday, giving the 2-year-old Buccaneers their first win in school history.

Game notes:

Special teams star Alex Gillis, who blocked two field goals to preserve a win at Friday Harbor in 2007, was credited with a blocked PAT against Forks … Roman Turner and Preston McFarlen each tallied a sack against Jaksha … Brad Woolf was Sequim’s leading tackler, with two solo tackles and 12 assists … Thomas Gallagher, a 295-pound lineman, assumed kickoff responsibilities for the Wolves.

Play of the game

Actually the goal-line stand of the game, Sequim, down 13-0, seemed destined to break through with their first drive of the second half and shift the game’s momentum. But the eight-minute, all-running-play drive stalled when the Spartan defense held at the two-yard-line. The Wolves never had a better chance to score – and never did.