Community Sports

Gig Harbor, Peninsula narrowly defeated in football openers

Posted on September 1st, 2023 By:

Gig Harbor and Peninsula kicked off their football seasons on Thursday, Aug. 31, with road defeats that included some high-level plays and some head-scratching mistakes.

Early-season football can go that way. Each team lost large senior groups from last year. Rebuilding a football team is much like rebuilding a new engine: Rarely do you turn the key to the sound of perfection. But both coaches received inspired play, saw key position players emerge and have enough talent to absorb an early nonleague loss.

Enumclaw 20, Peninsula 13

Peninsula traveled to Enumclaw to play the Hornets, who reached the Class 2A playoff semifinals last season. Four Seahawks turnovers and a clutch fourth-quarter drive allowed Enumclaw to escape with a 20-13 win.

The Seahawks’ offensive line looked dominant early, as senior running back Connor Burton ripped off multiple long runs and caught a 15-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Mana Smythe. The Seahawks were looking good with the ball at the 12 yard line, but fumbled away possession.

Peninsula’s defense forced a three-and-out. Then the Enumclaw punter ran out of bounds without getting his kick off, allowing the Seahawks to regain possession from the Hornets’ 20-yard line. Smythe fired a bullet to tight end Cole Muilenburg to the 5-yard line. An illegal shift nullified Burton’s apparent scoring run before a high snap from center resulted in another turnover.

Enumclaw running back Tristan Donovan got into the end zone and Enumclaw took a 6-0 lead into halftime.

Bruising senior Landon Watson, who gained 58 yards on 13 carries, put Peninsula in front when he scored with 3:14 to go in the third quarter.

Enumclaw answered when Shamus Twohey scored to put the Hornets up 12-7.

Smythe put Peninsula back on top, 13-12, with a pretty 80-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ganisin with 9:16 remaining in the game. But Twohey struck again from 5 yards out, and a successful two point conversion put Enumclaw ahead 20-13 with 3:30 remaining in the game.

The Seahawks had timeouts and sufficient time to tie the game, but Smythe was sacked for a 12-yard loss after receiving a low snap. The young quarterback, who flashed a capable arm and some nifty moves in the pocket, was faced with second-and-22 from his own 23-yard line. With just over 2 minutes to go and desperate to make a big play, Smythe threw late over the middle, under heavy pressure. An Enumclaw defender intercepted his pass.

Enumclaw soon converted a first down and ran out the clock.

Peninsula heads back out on the road next Thursday, Sept. 7, at Kentwood. The Seahawks’ South Sound Conference opener is Sept. 15 against Gig Harbor.

Spanaway Lake 26, Gig Harbor 21

Gig Harbor lost its road opener in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday, Aug. 31, falling 26-21 to Spanaway Lake when the Sentinels scored on the last play of the game. The Tides thought they had won the game after two goal-line stands, but were thwarted when the officials ruled that Spanaway called its final timeout with 1.1 seconds to go.

Spanaway Lake easily scored on a delayed handoff play on that last snap.

Gig Harbor moved the ball well early in the game. Senior quarterback Tyler Stowers, a transfer from Bellarmine Prep, fired a pass to Liam Green for a 20-yard gain and senior running back Jayden Mayes added a few punishing runs before scoring from a yard out to take a 7-0 lead.

The Sentinels answered on a 12-yard run off tackle, but the Tides blocked the kick to preserve a 7-6 lead.

A few costly penalties stalled Gig Harbor’s next drive. Their early miscues continued when the Tides botched the snap to the punter and the Sentinels recovered on the Tides’ 1-yard line. Spanaway Lake scored easily and a two-point conversion made the score 14-7 to end the half.

The Tides opened up the second half with a couple defensive stands keyed by nice tackles from physical defenders Ryland Heckman and Nick Lang. Then Gig Harbor’s offensive line, which had trouble protecting the pocket, provided enough time for Stowers to find wide receiver D.J. Darling across the middle. Darling, who had four catches for 45 yards, made a nice leaping catch in heavy traffic to get the ball to the 2-yard line. Running back Aidan Fink took it in for the touchdown and the score was knotted at 14.

Gig Harbor claimed a 21-14 lead and forced a Sentinels punt in the fourth quarter. The ensuing punt wasn’t fielded and the subsequent roll pinned the Tides deep in their own territory. Stowers, under duress, fired an errant pass out into the flat that was  intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but the Tides’ lead had been trimmed to one point with 11:34 to go in the fourth quarter.

The seesaw game got even wilder with under four minutes to go, when a snap went through the hands of the Tides’ punter. The Sentinels recovered and were racing to the end zone but Gig Harbor’s Benji Park sprinted to catch the runner from behind and tackled him inside the 10-yard line.

A few plays later, the Tides defense forced a fumble and just needed a couple first downs to bleed the clock out and emerge victoriously. Mayes took three straight handoffs for 9 yards to set up a fourth and one from the Tides’ 14. Gig Harbor coach Darrin Reeves decided to roll the dice and go for the win. His aggressive decision to go for it deep in his own territory came up just a little short, and the Sentinels took over on downs.

The Tides defense then deserved a lot of credit for multiple goal line stands after that, but couldn’t keep Spanaway from crossing the goal line on the game’s last play.

Gig Harbor hosts Bonney Lake at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at Roy Anderson Field.