Tigers can’t complete late comeback, lose 2B title to Okanogan


SEATTLE — With a minute left on the clock in Husky Stadium, Pablo Ruedas-Guido drove his onside kick straight into the ground, and chaos broke out. 

The ball skipped over the front line of Okanogan’s coverage team. At the 50-yard line — exactly 10 yards downfield — Karsen Denault dove on it, but the ball squirted out and kept moving.

Eight yards downfield, two players — one in black, one in white — dove for the pigskin and only succeeded in driving it further downfield. Inside the 40, the last Okanogan player back whiffed on it, setting up one last mad scramble all the way down to the 33-yard line, where enough Bulldogs jumped on it at once to end Napavine’s dream at a repeat.

“We had a couple of good shots at it, but the ball bounces funny sometimes,” Napavine coach Josh Fay said.

As went the final play, so went the Tigers’ day on Montlake. The ball took its bounces, and they got breaks of their own, but their opponents from across the state always had the final answer, in a 28-24 loss in the 2B state title game, snapping a streak of 21 straight wins for the Tigers over 2B opponents.

It’s the Tigers’ second loss in the championship in the past three years, and gives the Bulldogs their revenge after Napavine beat them at Harry E. Lang Stadium last season for all the marbles.

And it ends District 4’s run of dominance at the 2B level. Napavine, Onalaska and Kalama had combined to win the past six state titles, since — wait for it — Okanogan beat the Tigers in 2015.

Before the game, Fay said he saw a lot of similarities between this year’s Okanogan team and the one his side beat last December in Lakewood. The Tigers themselves brought back a host of returning starters, and in a fitting way, Saturday mirrored the 2022 title.

“I thought it was going to end up shaking out a lot like it did, that it was going to come down to that fourth quarter, probably whoever had the ball last,” Fay said.

But this time around, there was just too much power coming from the Okanogan sideline. David Huffstettler — one of the few new starters for Okanogan —  ran for 194 yards on 30 carries, while quarterback Carter Kuchenbuch took the ball 15 times himself and ran in all four of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns.

“That was what we thought we were going to get,” Fay said.

On the other side of the ball, the Okanogan line, which dwarfed Napavine’s offensive front, spent just about the entire game getting into the Tigers’ backfield.

Under duress from the start, Ashton Demarest completed just two of his nine first-half pass attempts for just 13 yards.

“We were just off a bit today,” Fay said. “A lot of that was pressure from Okanogan, moving Ashton around in the pocket a little bit.”

At the break, the Bulldogs had 202 total yards to Napavine’s 45, and led 14-6, with the Tigers’ touchdown coming on a Demarest keeper to cap a short drive after Okanogan shanked a punt from its own 20-yard line.

“I kind of challenged them at halftime, like ‘You guys can quit,’” Fay said.

Instead, Napavine pulled out its best drive yet, moving down the field to open the third quarter with a 10-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Cayle Kelly diving in from 5 yards out on a jet sweep. Conner Holmes came down with an interception on Okanogan’s next drive, and Napavine came right back to take the lead on a 21-yard throw from Demarest to James Grose.

But the Bulldogs replied with two touchdowns of their own to go back ahead by 10, and Demarest threw an interception in the end zone with 3:43 to give the Bulldogs the ball back.

Napavine had one last gasp, getting a stop with 1:20 left on the clock and turning it into points in just 20 seconds on a 28-yard Demarest strike to Karsen Denault — who was back in uniform after missing five weeks with a broken collarbone.

“He’s just been so good for us,” Fay said of his senior quarterback. “He’s a great leader and a great kid and a great human being. He maintained his composure out there. Coming back and throwing that strike to Karsen was a big play. A lot of guys at the high school level have a hard time staying composed when you know it’s a two-score game at that point.”

Demarest finished his day 12 for 20 for 141 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 52 yards, but lost 23 on sacks. 

Kelly led the receiving corps with six catches for 57 yards, while Grose had 48 yards on three catches and Denault had 33 on two.

Denault’s touchdown set the Tigers up to roll the dice one last time on the onside, and while Ruedas-Guido’s bouncer bounced and bounced hard, but the coverage men couldn’t fall on their final chances to give Napavine one last gasp at a miracle.

Napavine finishes its season at 11-2. The Tigers are set to graduate 10 seniors, including Demarest, Holmes, Grose and Cael Stanley.

“Like every other team that gets to this point, we’re banged up and we have guys who are hurt,” Fay said. “But I liked the way our guys competed today. That’s what Tiger Football is about, is playing 48 minutes. I thought we did.”