In one word, that is what the scene looked like as the Eastlake student section poured on to the track to celebrate victory with their friends, and their team, after the Wolves posted a convincing 31-8 victory over Union High School of Vancouver.
Three weeks into the young season, the Eastlake Wolves just put Washington 4A football as a whole on notice. Following an uneven first half, Eastlake rode a 17-point 3rd quarter explosion to pull away from the visiting Titans and turn a close game into something of a laugher. And while playoff spots are not earned in non-league contests in early September, this game had the feel of an important moment for the Wolves. They proved to themselves and anyone else paying attention that they can play with anyone on a given night.
While Union came into the game ranked #3 in the state by MaxPreps, the Titans were somewhat surprisingly unranked in this week’s Seattle Times poll of 4A teams. Regardless of where Union fits in the hierarchy of the challengers for a state championship this season, as the defending state champions the Titans came to Eastlake, and deservedly so, as a respected opponent.
Make no mistake this Union team will be heard from this November if it can keep players healthy and clean up its play. Tonight, the Wolves simply out-executed and out-played their guests.
With the win, Eastlake improves to 2-1 on the year, and adds a confidence boosting, high quality non-league win to its resume.
The Wolves found themselves leading at halftime 7-0 after two quarters of sloppy play by both squads. Penalties and missed opportunities for the offenses, coupled with standout special teams plays, were the predominant themes early.
A mishandled kickoff by the Titans’ speedy receiver/return specialist Tobias Merriweather to start the contest set a dubious tone for first half miscues by both teams, pinning the Titans back to their own 10-yard line. Union had a successful drive going, moving to Eastlake’s 30-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. Merriweather hauled in a 48-yard strike behind the EHS secondary on the drive, and Union’s up-tempo attack led by quarterback Caleb Jordan seemed on track until penalties – and a pass to the endzone caught out-of-bounds – thwarted the opening drive.
While the Titans continued move the ball effectively at times in the half, they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. Dropped passes - including a deep ball that would have been a sure touchdown – along with 8 first half penalties, helped Eastlake’s defense pitch a first half shut-out.
Meanwhile, the Wolves could not find offensive rhythm early and should have felt equally frustrated. Union’s defensive line was big and fast, and consistently harassed the Wolves by clogging running lanes and chasing quarterback Grady Robison from the pocket. Eastlake did, however, find a way to continually put Union in a long field. While yards were hard to come by early, Robison was able to pin Union back to their own 9- and 8-yard line after punts concluded the Wolves’ first two drives.
The long fields set up by Robison’s punts eventually paid dividends.
After Jordan was injured and temporarily gave way to back up Alex Gerhmann on Union’s third possession, Eastlake forced a second turnover on downs at their own 43 midway through the 2nd quarter. The Wolves finally found some footing offensively, mounting an 8 play, 57-yard drive for their first score. The Wolves capped the drive on a 2-yard Jalen Bright plunge. On the drive, Robison found Zade Thompson for a 29-yard strike deep down the middle to get Eastlake into the red zone.
Merriweather returned the ensuing kickoff to the Union 40, setting up the Titans’ best starting field position of the half. With Jordan back under center, the Titans squandered the opportunity and could not muster a first down. Eastlake’s Drew Farrington then made the first of what would be several impactful special teams plays on the evening by partially blocking Union’s punt. Eastlake started their final possession of the half in Union territory, and quickly drove to the Union 10, but were unable to capitalize, missing a field goal just before halftime.
The Wolves looked nearly stalled to start the 2nd half after receiving the opening kickoff. With successive losses on run plays to start their drive, Robison’s 17-yard scamper on 3rd and 13 moved the ball nearly to midfield and the Wolves were on the move. The drive then stalled and while it didn’t net a score for the Wolves, Robison’s punt from Eastlake’s 44 settled inside the Union 1-yard line, once again pinning the Titans painfully deep in their own end.
But the Titans then went to work and for just a moment, it looked like they may seize momentum. A 16-yard pitch and catch from Jordan to Merriweather got Union off its own goal line. Following a pair of runs by Jordan, and a few more penalties for both teams, Union’s shifty halfback Marques Cantu got loose for a 10-yard screen pass. Suddenly the Titans were in Eastlake territory, but Jordan’s #baddecisionFriday moment – throwing against his body into triple coverage – resulted in the first of two second half interceptions by Trent Nicholson and the Wolves took over at their own 7.
On the ensuing drive, Robison nearly returned the favor. Following a scramble and a Union personal foul penalty, the Wolves had quickly moved the ball to their own 45-yard line when Robison under-threw Thompson on a roll out pass. Union had a chance – a really, really, good chance actually – at an interception. Instead, the ball tipped off their safety’s hands and fortuitously fell to Thompson. On the next play, Max Verboort made a fantastic adjustment to Robison’s pass to score the first of his two touchdowns and the Wolves were up 14-0 after Ryan Curran’s PAT.
The Wolves then forced Union into a 3-and-out and got the ball back at their own 49-yard line. Robison took a shot on first down and found Thompson for the third time on a deep ball, this time to the Union 6-yard line as Thompson ran away from the Titans safety and the Wolves offensive line gave Robison a clean pocket. After a Bright run, the Robison was sacked, and on 3rd and goal a pass to Verboort in the endzone was batted down. Curran marched on to the field to split the uprights from 29 yards out and the Wolves increased their lead to 17-0.
Eastlake would strike again almost immediately. After Nicholson’s second interception and subsequent return into Union territory, and yet another personal foul penalty on Union – the Wolves were at the Union 19-yard line and it took only one play for Robison to find Verboort again, this time on a picture perfect throw on a fade route.
After Union later mounted it’s only scoring drive of the night, capped by a 2 yard run by sturdy running back Isaiah Jones, Eastlake capped the scoring on a 12 yard pass from Robison to Garret Carney with 4:11 left and ended any hope Union had of mounting a comeback.
Eastlake travels to Issaquah High School to face the Eagles next Friday evening at 7pm.
Robison completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 282 yards, connecting with 6 different EHS receivers, and led EHS in rushing with 76 yards on 20 attempts…. Thompson led EHS in receiving yards with 129 on 4 catches, while Verboort added 5 catches for 60 yards and Cooper Williams caught 3 balls for 74 yards….. Defensively the Wolves were led by their quartet of linebackers Bright, Farrington, Carney, and Jason Bryant who combined for 15 tackles and an additional 14 assists…. Robison averaged 46 yards on 4 punts, while Curran went 4/4 on PAT’s in addition to the 29-yard field goal…. Average starting field position for Union was their own 20, for Eastlake their own 36…. Eastlake outgained Union in first downs 21-17 and total yards 419 to 325.
Special thanks to statistician John Miller, spotter Eric Bryant, and photographers Chad Greene and Mark Sutter.
Let’s go Wolves! #WSPS
Special thanks to…