Cedarcrest rushes past Falcons for conference win

Falcon sophomore quarterback Nick French scrambles away from the Cedarcrest pass rusher as he gets some help from Mason Shoudy blocking up front.  - Brian Kelly / The Record
Falcon sophomore quarterback Nick French scrambles away from the Cedarcrest pass rusher as he gets some help from Mason Shoudy blocking up front.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — Every player on South Whidbey’s football team knew Cedarcrest was going to run often Friday night. They just didn’t know how often, or how far.

Cedarcrest had more than 300 yards of total offense, almost entirely on the ground, to beat South Whidbey 27-17 in the Falcons’ homecoming game.

The Falcons expected the Red Wolves’ star running back Martin Vakamoce to have a good night. In the first quarter, their preparations worked as Vakamoce was limited to five rushing yards.

“Andy (Davis) and the defensive guys put a great game plan together,” said Falcon co-head coach Mark Hodson. “The whole concept of the defense was, ‘Nobody look at 5 (Vakamoce), because everybody else will tell you where the ball is going.’”

By halftime, Vakamoce burst for 121 rushing yards, and by the final whistle he totaled 246 yards and scored three touchdowns (on runs of seven, 64 and 30 yards).

“Even the long runs that they broke, it wasn’t a case of a giant hole,” Hodson said. “It was being out of position by one kid or a missed tackle.”

Turnovers opened the first quarter.

On the Falcons’ second possession, sophomore quarterback Nick French ran out of the pocket to throw and was picked off by Vakamoce at the 27-yard line. Two Red Wolves’ plays later, and Falcon junior Pat Monell forced and recovered a fumble.

That led to a backfield pass from French to junior fullback Aaron Curfman. He caught it near the 19-yard line and followed his blockers along the Falcons’ sideline for the score. Junior kicker Cameron Coupe’s extra point kick gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.

Cedarcrest answered in the second quarter on a 77-yard drive. The Falcons lost possession on a turnover on downs after French’s pass went through Austin Baker’s hands near the Red Wolves’ red zone.

South Whidbey nearly stopped the drive at the Cedarcrest 39-yard line, but a facemask penalty advanced the Red Wolves across midfield. That led to Vakamoce’s first touchdown run and a 7-7 tie.

Monell sparked the offense with a 47-yard kickoff return and a penalty that put the Falcons on the Cedarcrest 13-yard line.

“Pat Monell was just a beast tonight,” Hodson said of his junior returner and running back who finished with 78 rushing yards. “He ran the ball like a champ. It’s great to see another weapon develop out of those kids.”

Three plays only moved the ball one yard and Coupe kicked a 20-yard field goal to lead 10-7. Coupe began the season sidelined by an ankle injury to his kicking foot, but he showed no signs of it as his field goal sailed well beyond the 20-yards needed.

“I feel really good being able to be back,” Coupe said. “My ankle feels really good. It’s just nice being back out here with the guys.”

The Falcons’ defense forced the Red Wolves to punt to Falcon senior Avery Buechner at the South Whidbey 45-yard line. French ran to the 50-yard line on the first play, then tried a deep pass to Buechner on the Falcons’ sideline that fell incomplete.

It was a pass Buechner regretted not catching.

“If I catch the pass that I turned my head wrong, it’s a different game,” he said.

Stuck at the 50-yard line, South Whidbey attempted to fake the punt, but was stopped five yards short of a first down. Cedarcrest took possession and scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half. That play was the difference for the Falcons’ coach.

“A couple turnovers bit us a couple times, and then the bad decision to fake punt,” Hodson said.

The extra point kick was blocked, limiting the Red Wolves’ lead to 13-10. Monell dropped the kick return at the South Whidbey 20-yard line, picked it up and returned it to the Cedarcrest 44-yard mark with 14 seconds before the half.

“There was great blocking and everybody was doing their job well and we just fought hard to the end every play,” Monell said.

On first down, French attempted a 20-yard lofted pass to Sam Lee near the Red Wolves’ sideline. Lee was defended by two defensive backs and Vakamoce intercepted the pass.

“It was a great scheme by their defense,” Hodson said. “Again you’re evolving a young quarterback. He’s a sophomore, it’s his first year starting. We’re seeing him throw the ball on time and he’s making good decisions to throw the ball away.”

With the clock expired, Vakamoce cruised down the field with nobody between him and the end zone, until Coupe chased him down and tackled him out of bounds, saving a touchdown.

“I just thought that he was on the other side of the field, but I knew if I ran as hard as I could, I could get the guy,” Coupe said. “I had to have my teammates’ backs out here. I had to make that tackle.”

Late in the third quarter, the Falcons gained possession on downs at their 25-yard line.

South Whidbey methodically marched down field on runs by Monell, Curfman and Buechner. Monell caught a pass in the backfield and ran along the sideline for 16 yards before a penalty took the Falcons across midfield. Buechner gained the hard yards on direct snaps running through the linemen to the Cedarcrest 30-yard line. Curfman took the inside handoff and squeezed through the offensive line for 23 yards to the 7-yard line, which set up a 1-yard touchdown by Buechner for a 17-13 lead.

“Avery again ran great,” Hodson said. “The option was a great play for us tonight, we just couldn’t run it every single snap.”

Vakamoce scored two more touchdowns, both on long runs, to give the Red Wolves the lead.

“I guess they just outlasted us,” Buechner said. “I feel like we left it all on the field. Number five, he’s a great running back. He runs hard downhill, he keeps his feet moving.”

Being physically challenged by a relentless rushing attack allowed the Falcon coaches to see some fight in their Falcons. It’s something the staff wanted to see this season to give South Whidbey a different identity in the Cascade Conference.

“That’s what coach has been looking for all year,” Buechner continued, “just that pissed-off little kid from the island that doesn’t quit and keeps beating on them until the last seconds.”

The loss dropped the Falcons to 2-3 in conference and 3-4 overall. It sets up a meaningless game, in terms of making the playoffs, against Coupeville (0-6, 1-6) on Friday.

The inherent island rivalry, however, will likely be thick after both teams lost their homecoming games last week (Coupeville got thumped by Archbishop Murphy 60-6).

“After a loss like this, it’s going to be a rough, rough week for the battle for the island,” Buechner said.

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