Counting up the numbers after the game the totals didn’t seem to jive with the outcome. Napavine dominated nearly all the traditional counting statistics here at Tiger Stadium in Centralia on Saturday but somehow still wound up on the wrong end of a 44-42 overtime loss to Kalama in the state semifinals.
The contest was a rematch between the two teams who played in the Tacoma Dome last season for the state championship. The Chinooks took the prize in last year’s matchup as well, but that experience didn’t seem to take any of the sting out of Saturday’s gut punch of a loss for the Tigers.
“They came out and ran what we expected them to run. I think that’s the real frustrating thing at the end of the game is we felt like we were prepared, but I guess not,” said Napavine coach Josh Fay. “It’s disappointing. I know we doubled them up in yardage and six first downs is not a lot when you score 44 points.”
To wit — Napavine attained 20 first downs on the day compared to just a half dozen for Kalama. The Tigers also gained 436 offensive yards compared to just 211 for a Chinooks team that actually lost 22 yards in their rushing game.
However, Kalama was able to use several highlight reel plays to churn up points in a hurry and ultimately claim victory over the Tigers. Specifically, the Chinooks were the beneficiaries of a career day from wideout Brennon Vance who accounted for four touchdowns and a game-winning two-point conversion catch in the overtime frame.
Kalama trailed 21-14 in the second quarter when Vance busted off an 83-yard touchdown on a kickoff return where he made one move to free himself and then hurtled untouched like a subway train into open space. That score was buffered just minutes later when quarterback Jackson Esary connected with Jack Doerty on a 23-yard corner route for a touchdown with just four seconds left in the first half. After a two-point conversion Kalama held a 29-21 lead that felt larger than it really was.
Just over three minutes into the second half, Napavine found the spark they’d been searching for when Mario Lara blocked a Kalama punt and Gavin Parker scooped it up off a bounce and ran it in for a score. Trailing by two points in the fourth quarter the Tigers finished off a long drive with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Tanner Low. It was Low’s third one-yard scoring plunge of the day and quarterback Laythan Demarest capped that effort with a scoring scamper of his own for a two point conversion that gave Napavine a 36-30 lead with 9:22 left in the game.
Demarest finished the game with 67 passing yards on 10 attempts and 100 rushing yards on a dozen carries, including two touchdowns. Low led the Napavine offense with 164 rushing yards, and his three touchdowns, on two dozen carries.
After forcing a punt by Kalama midway through the fourth quarter Napavine elected to go for it on fourth and one from their own 25 yard line with a handoff to Low, and it worked. Three plays later, though, they dialed up the same strategy from their own 36 yard line and the Chinooks sniffed it out to force a turnover on downs. Two minutes later Esary was tumbling over the goal line for a touchdown that tied the game up at 36-36 but the Napavine defense was able to block the ensuing extra point attempt to send the game into overtime.
“Probably should have punted there on that fourth down. We felt like we could get that but it was probably a mistake on my part,” conceded Fay after the game. “It felt like the right call at the time.”
Still, the Tigers weren’t out yet. In the overtime period Demarest was able to get loose for an 8-yard touchdown run to put his team one defensive stop away from a return trip to the state championship game. That outcome looked promising after Kalama went backward on their first play from scrimmage in overtime, but that’s when Esary and Vance got up to their shenanigans again.
Facing 3rd and 12 from their own 27-yard line Esary heaved a ball toward the goal line into triple coverage with Vance on the wrong side of each of his defenders. Somehow, all three Tiger defenders were unable to get their paws on the ball as Vance stuck his arms out and hauled in a most miraculous catch before tumbling backward for the game-tying score. On the conversion attempt the Napavine defensive line put plenty of pressure on Esary as he switched directions multiple times during an extended scramble before finding Vance standing all alone in the end zone for the game-winning 2-point catch.
“I thought Esary extended a lot of plays and there were some breakdowns on the back end. I thought our pressure was good but we talked all week about when it breaks down their guys keep working on the back end and we’re going to have to go make plays,” noted Fay. “It’s the semifinals. You make mistakes, and you’re going to lose.”