TUMWATER — W.F. West’s first state semifinal appearance in over a decade got off to a dream start, but the Bearcats couldn’t keep the momentum going against No. 3 North Kitsap, giving up 29 straight points and falling 29-22 to end their season.
“They’re a great football team, and they deserved to be here,” W.F. West coach Dan Hill said. “We could’ve won. But that’s what these games are. North Kitsap’s a great football team, and they just got us tonight. But our guys played their hearts out, nothing to hang their heads on. They never gave up. We always had a chance.
“As long as we had it within two scores, we knew we had a chance, and we were able to manufacture a drive and make some big plays and get it to a one-score game and give ourselves a chance. And we almost pulled it out.”
That the Bearcats did. Getting the ball back down 14 points with two and a half minutes left, having gone scoreless since its opening drive, the W.F. West offense found its mojo. Three Gavin Fugate completions got the ball moving, before a shot up the middle got the Bearcats near the red zone. With the clock winding under a minute, Fugate lofted a deep ball down the right side, and Cameron Amoroso — making his return to the field after a long injury absence — came down with the ball over a defender for the touchdown.
That, and the ensuing extra point, made it a seven-point game, with the Bearcats throwing their season on one onside kick. Cody Pennington’s roller kicked up at the right time and Tucker Land got to it to bat the ball back in bounds and force a scrum, but the refs came out of the pile giving the ball — and the spot in the title game — to the Vikings.
Amoroso led the W.F. West receivers with 135 yards on eight catches. Fellow senior Cody Penington caught six balls for 133 yards, while sophomore Gage Brumfield had eight catches for 108 yards.
Fugate finished his career with a 413-yard outing through the air. He started the day perfect on W.F. West’s first drive, hitting all three of his leading receivers in turn before capping things off with a 6-yard touchdown to Brumfield, rolling to his right before throwing back across the field.
“It’s a collection of all their hard work,” Hill said. “They get to come out here and play and have fun and do what they do, but it’s the stuff behind the scenes — all the time in the weight room, all the time on the field with the jugs machines, putting in extra work. That’s what I’m going to miss with this group. They’ve really been the leaders around our school for the past four years, and those seniors are going to be missed dearly.”
Coming off the touchdown, the Bearcats went for two, and while nothing went right to start, Fugate escaped a crowd before lofting a throw up to Evan Stadjuhar, who came down with it to make the score 8-0.
W.F. West’s next drive stalled out, but Fugate pinned the Vikings at their own 3-yard line with a punt, and three plays later, NK quarterback Cole Edwards — throwing from his own end zone — slung the ball right to safety Ross Kelley, who picked the ball off at the 25 and took it all the way to the house.
But that would be the end of the positives for W.F. West — at least on the scoreboard — for nearly the rest of the night. The Vikings got on the board with a short field goal in the second quarter, then followed it up with a drive that finished in the end zone.
North Kitsap took the ball to start the second half and marched right back down the field to take a 16-15 lead, and suddenly the Bearcats were the ones chasing.
Getting its first chance with the ball of the half, W.F. West came out firing itself, with Amoroso out-jumping a defender for a 34-yard gain to set the Bearcats up inside the 10-yard line. W.F. West got itself to the 1, but on third-and-goal, Fugate was stuffed by the North Kitsap front, and on fourth down, Hill rolled the dice.
Instead of attempting a go-ahead field goal, W.F. West kept the offense on the field, brought its goalline package in, and gave it to sophomore tailback Tucker Land. He never got back to the line of scrimmage, giving the ball back to the Vikings on downs.
“We were only going to get down there so often,” Hill said. “We put the ball in the hands of our line. North Kitsap, they’re good, and they just got the stop there. No regrets on that one.”
The visitors promptly went 99 yards in six plays to stretch the lead to two possessions.
Despite the slow start, the North Kitsap offense got rolling as the game went on, and ultimately out-gained W.F. West 522-441. The Vikings finished with 181 rushing yards — with tailback Morgan Paul going for 108 — while the Bearcats all but abandoned the run, only going for 28 ground yards on 17 carries. And while Fugate racked up the passing yards, he also threw four interceptions.
“I knew they were going to be a hard team to run the football on, and going into it, we knew we were going to have to throw the ball more,” Hill said. “We had a good gameplan, but we just had a couple mental mistakes here and there. But that’s what happens when you play football at the highest level.”
The Bearcats — whose semifinal finish matched their best in school history — will graduate 18 seniors, led by Fugate, Amoroso, and Pennington, and linemen Daniel Matagi, William Buzzard, and Hunter Lutman.