Falcons fend off feisty Tigers with fourth-quarter score

LANGLEY — South Whidbey quarterback Nick French ended the back-and-forth contest with Granite Falls with one big play.

LANGLEY — South Whidbey quarterback Nick French ended the back-and-forth contest with Granite Falls with one big play.

French torched the Tigers for a 38-yard touchdown run in the fourth-quarter Friday. It was the Falcons’ first home victory and their Cascade Conference opener.

The only reason he was able to score on that play, and all the other touchdowns in the 28-21 win Friday night, was his offensive line.

“I’m not going to take any of the credit tonight,” French said. “That was all the linemen and receivers. Jordan Parrick had a huge block on that last touchdown.”

This Falcon victory had some timely defensive stops, too. South Whidbey allowed Tiger running back Kyle Everett to rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Both were inside the 10-yard line.

“Here’s a team that passed three times a game, four times, and not one completion. We’ll take that,” said Falcon co-head coach Mark Hodson.

“Any win is a good win right now.”

Granite Falls (0-1 Cascade Conference; 0-3 overall) struck first on its second drive. The Tigers started on a short field after a high snap sent Falcon punter Cameron Coupe scrambling to the end zone and kicking a rugby-style punt to his own 46-yard line.

Tiger quarterback Tanner Peep ran a run first, run second and run third-down offense. Between running himself and handing off to sophomore Matthew Hamilton or Everett, the Tigers reached the 6-yard line where Everett punched it in for a first-quarter lead.

It was short-lived. South Whidbey got a big boost from French on the kick return that set up a nine-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Nick Bennett.

“He comes to the ball and protects the ball,” French said of Bennett. “If I throw the ball to him, I feel comfortable he’s going to catch it.”

The Tigers nearly had a breakaway kick return touchdown. Coupe saved the score as he tackled Tiger senior Michael Strickland at the 24-yard line. Granite Falls ran its way to the 1-yard line before Everett ran in his second score and a 14-7 Tigers’ lead.

South Whidbey (1-0; 2-1 overall) hit the turf running in the second quarter. Bennett opened the quarter with a seven-yard run and an 18-yard catch from French, before he ran in a nine-yard touchdown and Coupe kicked the extra point.

A fumble recovery by sophomore Pierce Jackson stunted Granite Falls’ next drive. The Falcons drove down the field from the Tigers’ 29-yard line and had another scoring opportunity from the 10-yard line. But Peep intercepted French’s pass on a faked field goal attempt.

South Whidbey emerged from the 14-14 halftime and scored on its first drive in the third quarter. French showed his versatility as he moved the Falcons downfield by running and throwing. He recovered a low snap and ran 15 yards for a first down across midfield, passed to Bennett twice, rushed through his line to the 24 and took South Whidbey to the 16. Falcon junior Cooper Nichols sprinted in for the go-ahead touchdown.

Granite Falls responded later in the third quarter with a 10-yard run by Tiger junior Tyson Campbell. The extra point tied the game 21-21 with four minutes left in the third.

South Whidbey opened the fourth quarter with possession and looked to have momentum. The Falcons relied on the Nick and Nick connection until a third-and-long pass into triple coverage for Bennett, who ran past the corner on the Falcon sideline, turned back to French, leapt for the ball, pinned it to his helmet and fell to the turf. One of the refs called the ball a dropped pass, and South Whidbey punted.

“It was a tough call,” Bennett said. “I had it on my helmet. It was the scariest thing.”

Then “Big Blue” showed its colors and forced a three-and-out from the Tigers. On third down, the Falcons swatted away one of the rare Tiger passes.

South Whidbey’s next drive resulted in a 37-yard touchdown run by French with 5 minutes left. From the 25-yard line, French was sacked back at the 37. With 18 yards to go for a first down, French dropped back for a pass, then bolted through the middle of the field, cut to his right, beat the safety and scored. Coupe’s extra point put South Whidbey ahead 28-21, the final score of the night.

Granite Falls had the ball for the final four-and-a-half minutes as the Tigers charged down into Falcon territory. On fourth-and-13, Parrick slapped away a deep pass to give the Falcons possession with 36 seconds left, essentially sealing the game as French kneeled out for the victory.

“We knew we had to stop them. We knew we could,” French said. “We got ‘Camp Nasty’ right there on the goal line.”

South Whidbey hits the road Friday to take on King’s. The Knights are the top-ranked 1A football in Washington and are coming off a 40-15 drubbing of Archbishop Murphy, the top-ranked 2A team. King’s has scored 42 and 43 points in its other two games.