TUMWATER — The smoke that began to engulf the area covered the sky Friday night, but Tumwater’s lucky stars shone through, as the Thunderbirds held on by the skin of their teeth and then some to come away with an 8-6 win over North Kitsap at Sid Otton Field.
“What a great, great job by our defensive staff, getting these kids ready, but most importantly, how hard those kids fought,” Tumwater head coach Bill Beattie said. “That’s a good football team over there, and for 48 minutes, our defense did it. They did a great job. We couldn’t get much going offensively, but our defense was lights-out.”
The defense needed to be, with the offense struggling all night long. The Thunderbirds managed just 81 rushing yards on 23 carries, while their two quarterbacks combined to go 9-for-25 through the air.
But from the opening horn, the defense had the answer. The Tumwater defense racked up seven sacks as a front, and while the secondary struggled at times to contain North Kitsap’s passing attack, it came away with three key interceptions — two by Derek Thompson and one by Payton LaGuerre.
“We knew we had to play great coverage,” Thompson said. “Got a little lucky on a couple, but our coverage was working out. We made a few adjustments that made it perfect for our coverage, and we made the plays on defense.”
The defense even started the scoring for Tumwater. After a perfect Xavier Ickert punt was downed at the 1-yard line, the T-Birds swarmed North Kitsap’s Karsen Walsh in the end zone, with junior Criss Tyler getting to him first to record a safety and put the hosts ahead 2-0.
That would be the score for much of the half, until LaGuerre’s interception gave Tumwater the ball back with time winding down on the second quarter. Three plays got measly yardage and set up fourth-and-3 from the North Kitsap 39-yard line, and Alex Overbay — who finished with an even 100 yards on the night — flung up a deep ball to the end zone, where Thompson dove to grab it with four seconds left on the clock.
When the Tumwater bench swarmed to the end zone to celebrate, the T-Birds drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag, pushing the extra point back 15 yards, and the attempt fell short. That gave the hosts an eight-point lead going into the break, and when the game resumed, the hold-on job really began.
Part of it was a stand-out job across the entire defensive group. With sacks factored in, the Vikings managed just 32 yards on 32 carries. The guests had just one run go for double-digit yards — it went for exactly 10.
“It’s about getting the rhythm with what you’re doing, seeing what they’re trying to do,” Beattie said. “Our kids just kept rallying up. It got down here, and they weren’t going to give anything up. It was awesome.”
But part of it was a combination of pure grit and luck, bolstered by a silent second half by the offense.
Tumwater didn’t record a first down after leaving the locker room. For their part, the hosts had just three runs of double-digit yards, and the only one of those that got a first down came from their punter following a bad snap. The T-Birds ran just 20 plays in the second half; North Kitsap, meanwhile, ran 24 plays on the plus side of midfield in the final two quarters.
The Vikings lined up for three field goals in the second half, and missed all of them. The last of the three came after North Kitsap got on the board with a 15-yard pass, but the T-Birds held strong on the two-point conversion to maintain a two-point lead. After the Tumwater offense went three-and-out, a bad snap on the punt gave North Kitsap the ball at the 25-yard line. Four plays later, the Vikings scored, but it was called back for holding, and another hold set them all the way back at the 30, where they promptly put a 47-yard attempt wide on fourth-and-goal.
North Kitsap would get the ball back twice more in the fourth quarter, but Thompson ended the first drive with his second pick of the night, and the T-Birds turned the Vikings over on downs to seal the win.
The victory moves the Thunderbirds to 2-0 on the young season, with a cross-classification matchup at 3A Kelso looming next week. For now, fresh off a highly-ranked victory, they’ll let their defense do the talking.
“I think we made a point,” Thompson said. “We knew this was going to be a big game coming in, and we had to fight, but it was worth it, it paid off.”