On a rainy Friday night in Sammamish, the Eastlake Wolves (5-2 in Kingco) hosted the Skyline Spartans (7-0) with the Wolves playoff hopes on the line. Emotions ran high before the game as Eastlake recognized its 17 seniors potentially playing their last home game. However by kickoff, all focus was on the teams on the field. As coach Don Bartel told the team before they took the field "this is why you play football. To play meaningful games against a very good team, with everything on the line".
From the first play, the a long Skyline pass attempt knocked down by cornerback Chandler Tolliver, the Wolves showed they could play with the Spartans. However, while the Wolves battled gamely all night, they were ultimately undone by 3 turnovers (vs. none for Skyline) all of which the Spartans turned into touchdowns. As a result, a game which Eastlake trailed 16-14 at halftime ended in a 37-21 victory for the Spartans.
Skyline took the opening kickoff and after their initial big shot down the field fell incomplete, they went to work with their big running back Rashad Boddie. The Wolves defense swarmed to the ball, led by senior linebacker Connor McCabe but Boddie consistently ground out 4-5 yards per carry. On 3rd down in Eastlake territory, junior cornerback Parker Lester knocked away a Blake Gregory pass in the end zone, giving Skyline 4th down. The Spartans attempted a 36-yard field goal which sailed wide and the Wolves defense had held serve.
On their first possession, Eastlake went 3-and-out on offense and it took a 49 yard punt from Mark Whitley to flip the field for the Eastlake defense. However, starting on their 25-yard line didn't inhibit Skyline as they ran one play before Gregory hit receiver Jake Pendergast with a bubble screen which Pendergast took 68 yards for a Skyline touchdown. With a bad snap Skyline couldn't convert the PAT and led 6-0.
The Wolves wouldn't trail for long. On their next possession, Eastlake rode Daniel Bradley's running down the field as the Wolves offense line consistently created seams and Bradley pounded out runs of 8, 15 and 21 yards. From the Skyline 27 yard line, Whitley passed up 2 open receivers and weaved into the end zone himself to tie the game. Jack Matheson converted the PAT and Eastlake led 7-6 with 1:18 left in the first quarter.
An inspired Wolves defense held Skyline on the next possession when senior linebacker Cory Flynn, wearing the #9 jersey of injured teammate Will Esser, tackled Boddie short of the first down on 3rd and 4. Skyline lined up in punt formation but snapped the ball to Bradley Kim who took the fake punt around the right side for a Skyline first down. Skyline continued driving with Boddie gaining 12 yard on a carry and Gregory hitting receiver Logan Wannamaker for a first down on 3rd and 8. On the next 3rd down play, Mark Whitley, playing cornerback for the first time this season defended the pass and Skyline lined up for a 28 yard field goal. This time, the kick was good and Skyline led 9-7.
After a change of possessions, Skyline struck quickly turning another short pass into a 47 yard touchdown to extend their lead to 16-9 with 4:08 left in the half. The home crowd rooted on their team to answer and the Wolves responded. Junior Cole Brinkman fired up the crowd when he returned the kickoff to the 40 yard line. With strong running from Bradley, Carter Browning and Whitley, the Wolves drove down the field, aided by a 15-yard late hit penalty on Skyline. Whitley found junior receiver Parker Lester for a 29 yard touchdown pass, Matheson converted the PAT and Eastlake had closed the gap to 16-14.
With 2 minutes remaining in the half, Skyline tried to answer the Eastlake touchdown, driving down the field behind Boddie's running. However on 3rd down, senior nose tackle Jacob Kauffman pressured Gregory into an intentional grounding penalty which pushed Skyline back to the 31 yard line. Skyline attempted a 48 yard field goal which was no good and the game went to halftime with Skyline leading 16-14.
Optimism ran high for Eastlake as the Wolves took the opening kickoff of the 2nd half with a chance to take their first lead of the game. However, the Spartans defense forced and recovered an Eastlake fumble giving the Spartan offense a short field at the Eastlake 28. Boddie ripped of 20 yards rushing and then Gregory threw an 8-yard touchdown, boosting the Spartan's lead to 23-14 early in the 3rd quarter.
The teams then traded possessions with the Wolves defense led by nice plays from Kauffman, Flynn and senior linebacker Bayan Farahani. With 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Whitley hit Lester with a 40 yard pass to move into Skyline territory. The Wolves continued the drive but a Whitley scramble on 4th and 6 came up short of the line to gain and a promising Eastlake drive ended in a turnover-on-downs. The 3rd quarter ended with Skyline leading 23-14 and the Wolves fans optimistic that their team would find a way to pull out the must-win game.
To start the 4th quarter, the Eastlake defense forced a punt and drove to mid-field before Skyline forced another fumble. Skyline recovered and used the short field to distance themselves from the Wolves. A nice improvisation by quarterback Gregory resulted in a 22 yard pick-up on 3rd down and Gregory then threw a 20 yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 30-18 with 9 minutes remaining in the game.
With a sense of urgency, the Wolves offense went back to work. Bradley's strong running powered Eastlake down the field with consecutive carries of 18, 6 and 10 yards aided by a 15 yard helmet-to-helmet penalty on Skyline. After a pass interference penalty in the end zone put the ball on the Skyline 19 yard line, Skyline senior captain PJ Cox made the defensive play of the game. On a run to the left side, the Skyline defense stood up Bradley, Cox stripped the ball and took it 86 yards for a Skyline game-sealing touchdown.
Eastlake's offense drove down the field one more time, this time scoring on an electrifying 24-yard touchdown run by Whitley to narrow the score to 37-21. However, with time running down, the clock ran out on the Wolves comeback attempt and their season.
With the loss, Eastlake finished 5-3 in KingCo (5-4 overall) in a 3-way tie for 3rd place. However, Woodinville and Mt Si own the playoff tiebreaker over Eastlake due to their head-to-head wins so the Wolves season ends without a return to the playoffs. For the 17 seniors and their parents and fans it was an emotional post-game with many players lingering on the field long after the final horn sounded. The coaching staff retired to the staff room to reflect on the game, the season… and no doubt to look ahead just a bit to next year.
Congratulations to the Eastlake seniors on a fine season and high school football career. WSPS.
Bayan Farahani - Carter Browning - Cole Nason - Chandler Tolliver - Jack O'Neil - Jason Orr - Camden Bean - Mark Whitley - Johnny Monahan - Cole Lewis - Jacob Kauffman - Will Bickford - Will Esser - Connor McCabe - Cory Flynn - Javier Rios - Connor Ahlquist
Photos courtesy of Ken Cardwell