Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey junior running back Caden Spear rushes for positive yardage during the Falcons’ season-opening game against Coupeville on Friday night at Jim Leierer Stadium at Waterman Field. The Falcons lost 18-0.

Falcons drop season-opening game to island rival, 18-0

Growing pains were evident in South Whidbey football’s season-opening game against Coupeville.

Misalignments and formation mishaps were to be expected from the sophomore-laden team, but the penalties setback South Whidbey’s offense on Friday night. The Wolves had no such burden and were able to break a scoreless tie after halftime with three touchdowns in the second half, while the Falcons were unable to muster a response.

The Falcons lost 18-0.

Head coach Mark Hodson said after the game that the mistakes are easily fixable in practice. He added that he was “super happy” with the Falcons’ performance overall and that they shouldn’t hang their heads.

“It shows us as coaches what we got to work on,” Hodson said. “…Coupeville’s a good team.”

Senior running back and linebacker Hunter Ewart said the Falcons are “100 percent” better than they were this past season when they went 0-9. He added that “little mistakes” on defense led to big plays for the Wolves, but felt the Falcons were ultimately competitive throughout the game.

“Basically, we’re just rebuilding from the ground up,” Ewart said.

Coupeville senior wide receiver Hunter Smith proved to be a difficult matchup for the Falcons’ defense, especially for the young and inexperienced cornerbacks trying to defend him. He scored the Wolves’ first touchdown late in the third quarter on an 18-yard catch, while also helping move Coupeville’s offense with key receptions throughout the game. His final contribution was an 85-yard rushing touchdown with just over two minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, which effectively sealed the Wolves’ win.

“Their whole team was (Smith),” Hodson said. “…He’s the best athlete on the field when it comes to receivers.”

The Falcons were without three starting offensive and defensive linemen who were suspended for academic reasons from this past spring. South Whidbey relied mostly on the run game to move the chains, but the Falcon running backs were often stuffed at the line of scrimmage before having a chance to pickup positive yardage. Hodson, however, did not feel their absence swayed the game in the Wolves’ favor.

“I thought we were able to run the ball well, despite that,” Hodson said. “Obviously, it would have been better if we could have had them. Game changer? No, I don’t think it’s a game changer.”

Despite their intermittent mistakes, the Falcons’ underclassmen showed they have talent. Sophomore receiver and cornerback Alex Black made several receptions in the first quarter to help drive the Falcons forward, while also intercepting Wolves’ senior quarterback Hunter Downes in the second quarter. Sophomore safety Bodie Hezel and sophomore defensive lineman Kobe Balora also attacked Coupeville’s runners without hesitation. Hezel also intercepted Downes in the third quarter.

South Whidbey’s offense also featured a two-quarterback rotation between senior Greyson Clements and junior Kody Newman, a state placer in boys tennis who switched to football this fall. Clements started the game under center, but later switched to tight end. Newman showed that he has a strong arm when he completed several deep passes with accuracy, but also showed inexperience when he committed several turnovers with errant throws while under pressure from the defense.

Hodson said he has no preference who starts under center, as long as both of them are on the field at all times.

“We’ll play them both,” Hodson said. “Greyson is a great receiver and Kody is a great receiver. Whoever is not at quarterback is on the field.”

Three running backs — senior Hunter Ewart, junior Caden Spear and junior Clay O’Brien — shared carries from the backfield. Hodson expects they will be vital to South Whidbey’s offense moving forward. The Falcons play Chimacum away on Thursday night.

Though they did not see a win over the island rival, hundreds of attendees were treated to a historical moment during halftime. The stadium was renamed after late South Whidbey sports icon Jim Leierer, capping a months-long effort by former Falcon Jon Chapman to recognize Leierer’s impact on the community. The new name, Jim Leierer Stadium at Waterman Field, also continues to pay tribute to the late Bud Waterman’s land donation back in the 1980s. The high school was built on land that he donated to the South Whidbey School District.