Lee rushes for two scores in Falcons’ first home game | UPDATE

Sam Lee returns a punt to the 35-yard line during the first quarter against Granite Falls. He finished with more than 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.     - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Sam Lee returns a punt to the 35-yard line during the first quarter against Granite Falls. He finished with more than 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Home, sweet home.

Falcons senior running back Sam Lee ran all over Granite Falls in South Whidbey’s first home game, a 36-6 victory.

Offense. Defense. Special teams. He was everywhere Friday night.

Lee scored two rushing touchdowns, ran for 175 yards on 11 carries and hauled in 30 receiving yards. He had four tackles and an interception on defense. He averaged more than 20 yards on his punt and kick returns.

“Tonight was a night where I really liked to find my rhythm,” Lee said. “With it being the first home game, we did a really good job up front.”

Lee recorded big numbers, but South Whidbey played behind Granite Falls early in the first quarter.

The Tigers were forced to punt on their first possession after three rushing plays failed to gain 10 yards for the first down.

South Whidbey received the ensuing kick on its own 10-yard line, which made a long field for the Falcons offense. Lee had a 5-yard run on a toss from sophomore quarterback Nick French. But a stalled run and a fumbled snap led the Falcons to punt.

Good field position helped Granite Falls’ offense.

Tigers junior quarterback Brandon Leitzke stuck to the zone read offense, resulting in only rushing plays for the first few series. It worked for the Tigers.

Leitzke faked the handoff and kept the football for a 35-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead over the home team.

That was the last time the Tigers scored — coming with more than 34 minutes remaining in the game. Leitzke, also the team’s kicker, shanked the extra point kick to the left of the goal post.

“Our kids made good adjustments,” said Falcons co-head coach Mark Hodson.

“Granite Falls came out and ran a different defense than we were anticipating, and our kids were able to adjust on the field and on the fly,” he said. “We’ve got smart kids.”

Later in the first quarter, South Whidbey continued its grind on the grass. Lee caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage, hit the right side and met three Granite Falls tacklers. On the landing, Tigers senior Josh Beschta dislocated his shoulder and the game stopped for 15 minutes while paramedics provided aid and then transported him off the field.

“He’s a key cog on both our offense and our defense,” said Tigers head coach Tracey Bechtholdt. “We had to go to the depth chart and we’re pretty shallow, so obviously that hurt us early.”

When play resumed, the Falcons marched toward the end zone.

French, who missed the season’s first game against Bellingham because of an ankle injury, ran confidently and looked healthy as he scored on a sweep to the left.

South Whidbey’s kicking team lined up for the point after touchdown try, and Avery Buechner took the snap and ran in for the two-point conversion and an 8-6 lead.

“We just didn’t tackle,” Bechtholdt said. “South Whidbey didn’t do anything fancy, they ran the ball harder and we just didn’t tackle.”

In the second quarter, Granite Falls had crossed midfield and was on the Falcons’ 40-yard line. Leitzke dropped back for a pass to the middle, but Lee was waiting in coverage and leapt to catch it and return it to the Tigers’ 45-yard line.

“My job was to stay in the middle of the field so he couldn’t make a read so he’d just have to throw it up,” Lee said. “Then it was just athleticism against athleticism and go get the ball.”

Buechner’s 13-yard run set up Lee for a 27-yard touchdown run. The score gave the Falcons a 14-6 advantage. Coupe kicked the extra point to push the Falcons’ lead to  15-6.

“We really like getting our backs into space,” Lee said. “That was a big benefit. I’m not really a great runner between the tackles, but when we get our linemen out in space we do different things down the field.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Coupe booted the football to the 29-yard line. A rushing play by Leitzke put them on South Whidbey’s 42. The next play he fumbled and Buechner recovered it and took it 15-yards back across the 50-yard line.

Granite Falls’ frustrations mounted for Tigers running back Matthew Hamilton, who ripped his helmet off and threw it to the ground.

A false start penalty on South Whidbey moved the line of scrimmage to the Tigers 30-yard line. French lofted a pass to the end zone that bounced off senior wide receiver Daniel Sage’s hands. South Whidbey’s defense shut down Granite Falls momentum, as evidenced by Garret Thomson’s tackle of Leitzke for a five-yard loss.

“We talk to these guys a lot about making the play, not making the tackle and Garret is a good example of that,” Hodson said.

The Falcons came out of halftime hitting the turf. Sage caught a 40-yard pass on the 3-yard line that set up Aaron Curfman’s rushing touchdown with almost nine minutes left in the third quarter. Buechner again scored a two-point conversion.

Granite Falls was forced to punt again on their next possession.

Lee ran down the South Whidbey sideline, stopped, turned, leapt over his defender and caught a 20-yard pass from French on third down and 18 yards (French finished with 75 passing yards on four attempts).

“I was out the play before that, and it was third down and 14 yards,” Lee said. “I told coach, ‘Put me in, I’ll get the first down.’”

“Nick threw a great ball,” he added.

Two plays later, Lee rushed from the five-yard line to score his second touchdown of the game. Coupe’s extra point kick put South Whidbey up 30-6.

By the fourth quarter, most of South Whidbey’s starters were out. That didn’t slow down the Falcons’ run game. Senior Austin Baker cruised with a 15-yard run, dragging three Tigers defenders for the last two yards. Lee ran on a screen out of the backfield for a 30-yard run. That set up sophomore Cooper Nichols to run in for the score with 7:54 remaining.

Buechner bobbled the snap for the extra point, slapped the football to Coupe for an impromptu attempt at a two-point conversion, but he was tackled on the 2-yard line.

That was the final score on a long night for the Tigers that saw at least six medical timeouts and sent one player to the hospital.

“We play full speed, whistle to whistle,” Lee said. “It’s part of football. I’m not going to tone down anything if I think I’m going to hurt someone; it’s just part of the game.”

South Whidbey will need a similar performance to challenge the conference-favorite Archbishop Murphy on Friday in Everett. The Wildcats are 1-0 in conference, 3-0 overall.



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