Is it better to win ugly than lose pretty?
The short-handed Wolves Junior Varsity found out the answer to that question on Monday night as they trekked up to Mill Creek to face their counterparts from North Creek High School. The host Jaguars gave Eastlake all they could handle on a cool, dank evening, before Nick Robbins scored the decisive touchdown with under a minute left to salvage a win and close out their season with an impressive 8 wins against 1 loss.
While the season record is impressive, tonight the team frankly wasn’t. The Wolves were a bit flat. Missing some key players due to injury, illness, and perhaps a little preventative maintenance as the Varsity squad prepares for an opening round playoff game this weekend, Eastlake struggled most of the evening to consistently move the football on offense.
Starting quarterback Trent Nicholson, playing with an already injured throwing shoulder, fought through a half before having to leave the game due to increased soreness in the shoulder. While the run game had some moments throughout, the passing game struggled with dropped balls and deflections. It was not until late in the game when Eastlake began to click a little in the passing game, perhaps just enough, enabling a comeback and a 12-8 victory over the stubborn Jaguars.
Defensively, the Wolves had to be opportunistic to stay in the game, and they were. Fortunately for Eastlake, Axel Isaackson and Will Yost came to play and led a resilient defensive effort. How Eastlake won this game, and how Eastlake only yielded 8 points in the contest, is almost impossible to explain. North Creek controlled the ball; the Jaguars dominated in time of possession and had more total yards 261-216. North Creek ran 60 plays to Eastlake’s 36.
While turnovers plagued both squads, ultimately the Jaguars lost the turnover battle to the Wolves 4-3. Aside from the final score, that was just about the only statistical advantage for Eastlake. But when the chips were down late, the Wolves set aside a frustrating first 28 minutes of the game and simply played their best football over the final 12 minutes. The Wolves CLOSED.
After promising opening drives by both offenses, each team came up empty in the red zone. Eastlake had a nice series but turned the ball over at the Jags’ 10-yard line. North Creek then drove the field only to stall and turnover the ball on downs inside the Eastlake 5-yard line.
Eastlake countered by driving past midfield, only to commit another turnover on a deflected ball that was intercepted and returned just over the 50. Just when it looked like the Jaguars might punch in a score on the ensuing drive, Isaackson reached up with his big paw, snaring an impressive one-handed interception at the Eastlake 13-yard line before galloping all the way out to midfield on the return.
The Wolves stalled and could not muster a first down with the good field position however, and the Jaguars then drove 56 yards in 10 plays to score with under a minute remaining in the first half. After a successful 2-point conversion, the Jaguars led 8-0 and Eastlake found themselves shut out in a half for the first time all season.
Taking the second half kickoff, the Jaguars put together an impressive 12 play drive. North Creek seemed poised to go up by two scores but were victimized by Yost who intercepted a Jaguars pass at the Eastlake 5-yard line and returned the ball out to the 25 to give the Wolves a little breathing room. They would not need it. Running back Matt Brookshier simply took over, carrying the ball four times and reeling off 64 of his game high 137 rushing yards on the drive, which was also aided by a personal foul against North Creek. Brookshier slashed through the middle of the Jaguars defense for the final 31 yards with only seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter, bringing the Wolves to 8-6. Eastlake’s 2-point conversion failed.
To that point, the Jaguars were controlling the ball and the clock, exacerbated with a little help from an officiating crew that felt compelled to wind the clock liberally all evening. This effectively shortening the game even more, and Eastlake knew it needed another possession to have an opportunity to win. Another possession wasn’t a sure thing, and the defense needed a stop. It would get more than one in the exciting 4th quarter.
Before the Jaguars could get going, a fumbled hand-off was recovered by Isaackson, and the Wolves were in prime position to take a lead with the ball at the North Creek 35-yard line. Eastlake drove inside the 20, but the drive stalled, and the Wolves attempted a 33-yard Noah Weintraub field goal on 4th and 3 from the Jags’ 16-yard line. The kick had plenty of leg but sailed wide right.
North Creek had the ball back and only 6:22 remained in the game. The Wolves defense stood strong, yielding a first down on the first play of the series, but then forced a punt. Eastlake would give the ball right back to the Jaguars with an interception however, their third turnover, and prospects seemed bleak for a comeback.
But four plays later, North Creek was punting again, and this time the Eastlake offense would not misfire. Starting the drive with 1:56 remaining in the game, Joey Greztic completed three of four passes to open the drive, with two of those balls to Cooper Williams covering 28 yards.
From the North Creek 11, with under a minute to play, Brookshier took a handoff up the middle and appeared to be stood up at the 9 before breaking two tackles, getting outside and being bumped out of bounds at the 3 to not only stop the clock with 42 seconds left but also putting the Wolves on the cusp of scoring.
Grzetic tried to find Max Verboort on a quick out, but the pass was incomplete – however the North Creek bench was flagged for unsportsmanlike following the play. With the dead ball foul, the ball was advanced just inside the 2-yard line, and the Wolves faced 3rd and 1. Running behind a determined offensive line and benefitting from an additional lead block from Brookshier,
Robbins fell just over the goal line with 35 seconds left to provide the final margin. The Wolves were again unsuccessful on a 2-point try.
The Jaguars would have one more desperate possession.
North Creek drove to the Eastlake 45 on a series of short passes before Yost intercepted the final pass at the 35-yard line and returned the ball over midfield before sliding to the turf as the clock expired.
Special thanks to photographer George Bickle.