LANGLEY — South Whidbey’s spot at the 1A football district playoffs slipped away like Coupeville’s running backs.
A fumble ruling killed the Falcons’ chance at a late comeback in the 18-13 Wolves’ victory. Coupeville pounded South Whidbey’s defense with a dominant rushing offense that gained first downs and an 18-0 lead by the third quarter. More importantly for the Wolves, they kept the Falcons’ offense off the field, left Waterman Field with The Bucket and grabbed a playoff spot.
“It’s my first time ever losing to Coupeville,” said Falcon senior co-captain Aaron Curfman, who plays fullback and linebacker. “It’s horrible.”
However upsetting it was for South Whidbey’s players, Coupeville’s players and fans were elated as they ran back from the Falcon sideline with The Bucket in hand, and a ticket to the playoffs.
“The kids played their hearts out,” said Wolves first-year head coach Tony Maggio.
Falcon junior quarterback Nick French injured his left hand and missed most of the previous game. Sophomore Parker Collins took over as the offensive leader.
“For the most part Parker did a good job for us,” said Falcon head coach Mark Hodson. “The last time he started (at quarterback) was a JV game.”
An early fumble on the Wolves’ 27-yard line cost the Falcons. Coupeville (1-1 Cascade Conference; 2-5 overall) limited South Whidbey to seven offensive plays in the first quarter. The Wolves, however, were able to extend their drives with a cadre of backs, including Jake Tumblin, Brett Arnold and Bryce Fleming.
“They were physical, they took advantage of stuff we were doing wrong,” Hodson said.
South Whidbey (1-4; 2-5 overall) started the second quarter with an apparent game-changing play. With Coupeville on the Falcons’ 12-yard line and facing fourth-and-long, Wolf quarterback Josh Bayne threw a deep ball to the middle of the field into the waiting arms of French.
But South Whidbey’s offense was unable to get a first down. The Wolves turned their next drive into points on an 11-yard run by Tumblin. The two-point attempt was stopped short, leaving the Wolves with a 6-0 lead with less than four minutes left in the first half.
The Falcons found some flow on offense on their ensuing drive. Cooper Nichols, a Falcon junior, returned the kickoff 25 yards to his team’s 40-yard line. Collins completed a pass to Cameron Coupe to get across midfield, but the Falcons couldn’t convert after that and turned the ball over on downs after a fourth-and-eight run play.
“We really keyed on their fullback,” Maggio said of Curfman. “We committed to stopping the dive first.”
Coupeville closed out the first half with a touchdown by offensive lineman Nick Streubel. Bayne fumbled in the end zone on an inside run, but Streubel dove on the ball for the 12-0 lead. The Wolves were short on a two-point rushing attempt.
South Whidbey’s offense was stopped on its opening drive in the third quarter. The Falcons were short on a fourth-and-long play, giving the Wolves possession at their 30-yard line.
Tumblin rumbled downfield for a 55-yard run before he was tackled by Coupe at the Falcons’ 10-yard line. Bayne threw to Fleming for the 18-0 lead.
In the final seconds of the quarter, South Whidbey scored. Bayne had a short punt returned to the Wolves’ 19-yard line by French. From there, Falcon backs Pat Monell, Curfman and Nichols took over. Nichols punched in the score and Coupe kicked in the extra point to trail 18-7.
A mix of passes and runs helped South Whidbey in the final quarter. Nichols broke off a 35-yard catch and run, scampering down the Falcon sideline. He looked to be out of bounds when the ball came out of his hands and rolled into the end zone, where Coupeville players pounced on it. The play was ruled a fumble, negating a first-and-goal for the Falcons.
South Whidbey’s defense stiffened on the next play, getting a pair of tackles for loss and forcing a punt. But on the first snap from the Wolves’ 35, Collins’ pass was intercepted by Wolves sophomore linebacker Korbin Korzan. The Wolves chewed up nearly four minutes of possession before punting again.
The Falcons scored again with six seconds remaining on a pass from Collins to Coupe, but the two-point conversion failed. Coupe attempted an onside kick, but the Wolves fell on the ball and were able to take a knee and take home The Bucket.
“It’s a bummer. They came to play, they were excited to play,” Coupe said. “We didn’t come in as ready to go as they were, and it showed.”
South Whidbey hosts Sultan (2-3; 2-5 overall) for the Falcons’ homecoming game Friday, Oct. 18.