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Knights use potent offense, turnovers to fell Falcons
LANGLEY — For every good play South Whidbey made against King’s, there was an equally bad turnover.
The Knights capitalized on four Falcon turnovers to take a 28-0 lead before halftime. South Whidbey never got close in its second consecutive loss, 35-6.
“I’m going to put the blame on the coaching staff on this one,” said Falcons head coach Mark Hodson.
“We’ve got to stress the fundamentals and attention to detail. We made mistakes we haven’t made in five years,” he said.
South Whidbey’s defense looked aggressive and ready to stop the Knights’ spread offense that averages 36 points per game.
The Knights (3-1 Cascade Conference; 4-1 overall) began with a false start penalty. Falcons senior cornerback Garret Thomson stopped Knights junior receiver Caleb Taylor at the line of scrimmage. Then Falcons junior Mitchell Hughes deflected a pass by Knights junior quarterback Billy Green to force the Knights to punt from their 20-yard line.
“I thought our defense played well,” Hodson said. “You’d look at those first few plays and think, ‘Wow.’”
The Knights attempted a rugby-style run-and-kick punt that Falcons senior Alex Horn recovered a few yards shy of the 50-yard line. Aggressive play-calling had sophomore quarterback Nick French attempt a pass on the first offensive play for the Falcons that began a series of unfortunate events.
A holding call moved the Falcons’ line of scrimmage back five yards. French’s pass to senior Avery Buechner hit his helmet and bounced to the grass. Then, French’s next pass was intercepted by Taylor and returned to South Whidbey’s 13-yard line.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is if it’s a scheme issue,” Hodson said.
On the next play, Green passed to Taylor across the middle for a touchdown.
“He makes really good choices with the ball,” said Knights head coach Jim Shapiro.
Still, the Falcons’ defense made big plays in the first half.
As Knights senior kicker Joel Gleghorn attempted the extra point kick, Falcons junior linebacker Aaron Curfman broke free on the right side, dove, extended his arms and blocked the kick with his left forearm to limit King’s lead to 6-0.
On the kickoff, Gleghorn’s kick was recovered by the Knights at South Whidbey’s 25-yard line. Confusion on the Falcons’ kick return team led to no one catching the ball after it hit the grass until the Knights grabbed it. It’s a play the Falcons employ often, and practice weekly.
“To see what we do work against us was absolutely frustrating,” Hodson said. “There’s only so much you can attribute to inexperience.”
“It’s definitely caught my attention now.”
Two plays later and Green threw another touchdown, this time to Knights junior receiver Ben Welch. Green attempted a two-point pass that sailed out of bounds to push his team’s lead to 12-0.
“It’s a blessing to have four or five receivers that can run and grab a catch and a quarterback who is a first-year varsity kid that’s done a great job,” Shapiro said.
South Whidbey’s offense began in earnest on its next series, only to be stunted by a turnover.
Gleghorn’s kickoff went out of bounds and advanced the Falcons’ starting position by 15 yards to the 35-yard line. Falcons senior running back Sam Lee had two runs for little gain, then caught a 15-yard pass from French near midfield.
Another Lee catch-and-run took the Falcons to the Knights’ six-yard line for 50 of Lee’s 86 receiving yards.
A few plays later, South Whidbey was on the four-yard line on fourth down. French took the snap, ran out of the pocket to his right, threw and was intercepted by Knights senior linebacker and running back Zach Evans just before the quarter ended.
“This team really capitalized on mistakes that we made on offense,” Lee said.
The first play of the second quarter, Evans broke open for a 90-yard touchdown run. Green passed to Taylor for a two-point conversion and a 20-0 lead with 11:42 remaining in the first half.
“This is the first team that’s passed more than twice on us,” Lee said. “Our main focus was to stop the pass and make them run the ball.”
The Knights’ scoring show didn’t slow.
A fumbled handoff between French and Curfman was recovered by the Knights on the Falcons’ 27-yard line. Green threw three consecutive passes, including a touchdown and a two-point conversion to Taylor to give the Knights a 28-0 lead.
“I think we just kind of lost our heads a little bit halfway through the game,” Lee said.
South Whidbey’s offense stalled on its next drive and was forced to punt. But the snap went over senior Mason Shoudy as he leapt for it and he was forced to fall on it at the Falcons’ 40-yard line.
The Falcons’ defense again had its moment to give the offense a chance to score. On the Knights’ next play, Falcons sophomore cornerback Kale Reichersamer intercepted Green’s pass to the middle at the South Whidbey 10-yard line. It was Green’s first intercepted pass of the season and seemed to be the spark the Falcons needed.
“I think we did OK tonight, South Whidbey did a good job pressuring us, especially with the man coverage in the second half,” Shapiro said.
French recovered a low snap, evaded a tackler, ran to his left and passed to Buechner, who shook off his tackler and ran to the Falcons’ 35-yard line. Again, the Falcons were forced to punt. Wet grass and damp air made catching difficult, despite the clear skies.
“It was pretty slick, just enough where it was kind of slimy out here,” Lee said.
Green bobbled a snap into the grass that was recovered by South Whidbey at the Knights’ 25-yard line. French connected on two passes to move to the 15-yard line, then he was sacked at the 26.
A penalty on the Knights for a hit on Lee as he attempted to catch a pass on the five-yard line moved the Falcons to the 15. French then tossed to Buechner on the left side for a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the opening half to cut the Knights’ lead to 28-6 after a two-point conversion failed. It was another score in a series between the former and current Falcons’ quarterbacks.
“He’s a great athlete,” Buechner said of French. “It’s not hard to coach him. He takes what you say and he does it.”
South Whidbey failed to score again, despite several long drives in the second half. The Falcons, however, limited the Knights to a rushing touchdown by junior running back Trevor Hanson in the second half, and played a scoreless third quarter.
“That’s a huge hole with a team that is so efficient at pitching and catching,” Hodson said.
On Friday, South Whidbey (1-2; 2-3) travels to play Sultan (1-2; 2-3) for the Turks’ homecoming. The Falcons’ captains plan to make it a memorable one for their conference opponents, and one the Turks won’t care to remember.
“It’s going to be a rough week for Sultan,” Buechner said. “It’s their homecoming and I intend to ruin it.”
Practice on Sunday was different for South Whidbey. Hodson wouldn’t get into the details, other than say it was a pre-planned change from watching game film to review the past game and prepare for the next one. The team will also attempt to establish its identity as a fearless underdog, one it enjoyed at the preseason camp at Central Washington University as one of only three 2A squads that scrimmaged against mostly 3A and 4A teams.
“We need to be that team throughout the season,” Hodson said.