LANGLEY — It wasn’t a rout.
But it certainly wasn’t the high point of an otherwise terrific season for Falcon players, coaches and fans.
By turning the ball over seven times, the South Whidbey football team (7-2 overall) lost to Archbishop Murphy 28-7 Friday in the final regular season contest.
Observers have long felt the team had the talent, heart and skills to overcome the undefeated Wildcats — they just couldn’t make any mistakes.
And they didn’t, at least in the first half.
On the initial series, the Falcon defense pummeled ATM’s front line, assisted by a holding call that stopped the drive in its tracks while keeping Wildcat running back Tyler Allen at bay.
By any measure, forcing ATM to kick the ball away could have been a sign.
Well, it was a sign, but not to the Falcon’s advantage.
South Whidbey bobbled the ball on the first kickoff return at the 5-yard line. ATM recovered and Wildcat Christian Milburn scored on a quick end-around from the 25.
After the extra point, it was 7-0 ATM.
Falcon quarterback Kyle Hoch was pressured all night by the Wildcat defense but generally kept his cool, only leaving the pocket for short passes to Nick Tenuta and Parker Barnett.
“ATM did a great job going after the ball,” Falcon coach Mark Hodson said.
They showed that skill by attacking Hoch relentlessly until he finally fumbled. The Wildcats capitalized once again on a short run by ATM’s Allen and the score stood at 14-0.
Running back Levi Sawyers then went to work, rushing for yardage long and short — he ended with 22 carries for 118 yards.
Seconds before the first quarter ended, Sawyers struggled to the 1-foot line and Hunter Hawkins made a touchdown as the second period began. With Fernandez’ point after, the score was 14-7.
For the next 15 minutes, the Falcon defense prevented ATM from scoring or doing anything else — they had to punt four times, twice as many as their average in seven previous games.
“Our defense was the big hero,” Hodson noted. “The Wildcats weren’t ready for our physical play.”
ATM had zero pass completions on the night.
“We just played straight-up defense and weren’t overly clever with our game plan,” defensive coordinator Damian Greene said.
Time after time, ATM was stopped or pushed back.
And with five minutes to go in the first half, lineman David Monell sacked Wildcat Patrick Kelley for a loss of 15 yards.
The Wildcat’s frustration level grew; a lineman picked a fight with defensive back Darrin Britton and both were ejected from the game.
At the half, the Wildcats were not happy campers; they had totaled 160 points by this time against other opponents and clearly expected to be doing better.
“We were a little worried,” Wildcat coach Rick Stubrud said.
When play resumed, the Falcons received deep in the their own territory and a ground-based slugfest ensued with Sawyers and Hunter picking up yards but no points.
Special team errors continued to dog the Falcons — they lost the ball again on a kickoff and ATM scored on an end-run by Milburn with 1:54 left in the third period.
Seconds later, another lost ball was converted as Milburn blasted through the middle and the final score stood at 28-7.
ATM converted four of seven South Whidbey turnovers into touchdowns.
“They played a great ball game,” Wildcat coach Stubrud said of the Falcons. “We expected them to give us everything they had. Without turnovers, who knew what might have happened.”
ATM quarterback Kelly agreed.
“They have a good team. Their defense was tougher than I thought they’d be but they kept screwing up.”
Hoch had no explanation for the defeat.
“Turnovers are part of the game,” he said. “We played them as equals and I’m proud of my teammates.”
Outside lineman Trapper Rawls felt they should have won. “We made some really dumb errors,” he said.
But Tenuta noted that ATM’s defense worked against the pass and they were able to control the run.
“Kyle was able to scramble and get first downs. In the end, it was all about turnovers,” he said.
Hodson said the team met three major goals this year.
“We had a winning season, were competitive and physical in every game and made it to the post-season.”
Hoch threw 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards and had nine carries for 23 more. Sawyers picked up 118 yards on 22 carries. Hawkins had 44 yards on 10.
Hoch also led the defense with 10 tackles; Barnett, Rawls and Danny Zuver each had five. Hoch and Monell caused a fumble each and Patrick Mclean blocked a pass.
At 7 p.m. Friday, South Whidbey travels to Lynden for a single-elimination crossover.
It will be another big test for the Falcons. The Lynden Lions won Friday’s 35-6 over Mount Baker and have outscored their last two opponents 75-13.
“They pass on every down with the state’s number two passing QB and wide receiver,” Hodson said. “They favor a no-huddle shotgun offense so we’ll be working on our nickel-and-dime cover packages.”