Fish Bowl preview: Gig Harbor, Peninsula face off Friday
Waving goodbye to summer, especially one as good as 2023, is never easy. But if there is one thing that makes the transition bearable, it’s the start of a new football season and the anticipation of the 45th annual Fish Bowl between Gig Harbor and Peninsula.
Sports stories are made possible in part by Joe Davis at Thrivent, a proud sponsor of Gig Harbor Now.
The 2023 Fish Bowl kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at Roy Anderson Field in Purdy. It’s the South Sound Conference opener for both teams.
This contest looks enticing on paper. Both teams are young and have different strengths to exploit.
Early season results
The injury-plagued Seahawks started the season with back-to-back losses, rare for a Peninsula team. But don’t read too much into it — the losses came by a combined 10 points to two tough teams. The Seahawks fell to Enumclaw, 20-13, and in heartbreaking fashion to Kentwood, 21-18, when a Conqueror returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown with less than 30 seconds to play.
Gig Harbor, which absorbed the departure of more than 30 seniors from 2022, split two games to open the season. They lost to a talented Spanaway Lake team, 26-21, on the final play of the game in Week 1; and then exploded for 31 points in the second half to blow out Bonney Lake 34-12 last week.
Let’s take a look at the match-ups and standout athletes for both teams.
Peninsula: Junior Mana Smythe is a first-year starter. He possesses enough skill and aggressiveness to be dangerous through the air, but has also experienced some timing difficulties with his receivers. He’s a pocket passer who is quick-footed and can zip throws out to the flat or go deep over the middle. He’s also capable of leaving the pocket to get first downs with his legs.
Gig Harbor: Sophomore Koi Calhoun, who took over for the injured Tyler Stowers in the second quarter of the Bonney Lake game, likely will start. Calhoun showed command in the huddle and the ability to scramble until his fast receivers got behind the secondary, where he hit them in stride. He was 8-for-13 for 143 yards and a touchdown in a half of action, leading a come-from-behind victory over the Lions.
Gig Harbor: The Tides have a tough senior running back in Jaden Mayes, who can put his head down at the goal line, score in traffic or bounce a run outside for a big gain. Mayes wants the ball and takes hits but keeps running hard throughout the game. Sophomore speed burner Ryland Geldermann can fly. He burst around end for a 50-yard touchdown in his last game. He has the speed to get to the edge on pitches and is powerful enough to truck a safety if he comes up soft in run support.
Peninsula: The Seahawks’ rushing attack is led by senior Connor Burton, who was arguably Peninsula’s best running back last season and had 87 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in last year’s Fish Bowl. He can run off tackle or take it out wide while also being a receiving threat. Senior Landon Watson is also a formidable runner who has quick stutter-step moves and the the elusiveness to make defenders miss. He led his team in rushing versus Enumclaw with 56 yards on 12 carries. Burton (ankle) and Watson (back) are both battling injuries from the game versus Kentwood, but it would probably take an amputation to keep these seniors off the field for this game. Junior Wyatt Abrigo is a combo back who can run, block or catch and will provide the depth the Seahawk running game relies on.
Gig Harbor: Steady 6-foot-3 senior Drake Matthies has experience, reliable hands and good blocking skills. The Tides also have the league’s fastest player in South Sound Conference track champion Ben Stevens, who used his 6-foot-4 frame and a next-level catch to score a 49-yard touchdown last game. Sophomore D.J. Darling opened the season with four catches versus Spanaway Lake. Senior Benji Park is a solid 6-foot-5 inch tight end who is a good blocker and receiver. The receiving corps is the Tides’ biggest strength. If they win the 50-50 balls in traffic, it could be the key to victory for the Tides.
Peninsula: Senior Henry Ganison has speed and already has a couple TDs for the Seahawks. He will be a big concern for the Tides defense. Carson Zimmerman and Hayden Bundy are both sure-handed receivers with big play potential. Senior Cole Muilenburg, a big target at 6-foot-5 inches and 230 pounds, can block or catch over the middle. The tight end could be a weapon near the goal line.
Peninsula: The Seahawks’ line averages over 250 pounds per player. They know their assignments and use leverage to their advantage. If Peninsula senses it can run effectively, offensive coordinator Jim Fairfield will take advantage of it. Their pass protection and center snaps leave room for improvement and they lost a stud in Levi Semler to injury. But the Seahawks will be successful if their running game isn’t limited by the Tides, especially with their aggression to go for it on fourth down.
Gig Harbor: The Tides’ offensive line has been inconsistent at clearing running paths up the middle for their backs. They must improve pass protection to win this game. Gig Harbor has been fond of rolling their quarterbacks out of the pocket in recent years, but moved the ball best against Bonney Lake when they kept the QB in the pocket and utilized quick slant and out routes to set up deep shots down the field. It will take more of that to beat the Seahawks. They must keep Calhoun upright and protected so he can feed their talented receivers.
Gig Harbor: Two 260-pound defensive tackles, junior Angelo Odom and senior Jorden Felton, and end Ryder Truttmann lead the Gig Harbor defense. All have showed the ability to clog running lanes and disrupt the pocket. The Tides’ linebackers are a strength as well. Park and Ryland Heckman are long and strong enough to stop the run and defend tight ends. Geldermann plays the middle linebacker and looks undersized at 5-foot-9 until you watch him hit people. He led his team with 10 tackles last week. The defensive backs look solid for the Tides. Matthies has the length and leaping ability to break up passes from his safety position while safety Nick Lang is a ball hawker who has a interception already. Liam Greene is a punishing tackler who’s all over the field.
Peninsula: The Seahawks have a physical front line in their 3-4 defense. End Muilenburg collected two sacks and a couple tackles for loss last week. Linemen Trace Schumacher (275 pounds) and Jesse Lawson (270 pounds) are formidable up front. The Seahawks are anchored by Landon Watson at middle linebacker, who uses his aggressiveness and understands it’s a violent game while Burton has the size and experience at safety to break up long pass attempts.
Gig Harbor: Kicker Boone Leverett is a weapon for Gig Harbor. He makes 45-yard field goals look like a walk in the park and is accurate from both hash marks. In a close game, Leverett could be a difference maker. Stevens is the Tides’ kick-off specialist. He nullifies any returns by kicking the ball out of the end zone routinely. The biggest challenge for the Tides’ punters is the center-punter exchange.
Peninsula: Field goal kicker Ellis Anderson missed two kicks last week, while inaccurate snaps haven’t helped the units timing. Quarterback Smythe typically handles punting duties. Peninsula is fond of having the ability to quick-kick when you think they may throw or kick when you think they may pass.
Peninsula has won seven straight Fish Bowls and that reality weighs heavily on the Tides. Gig Harbor has had leads in recent years but mistakes have cost them late in games they could have won.
Most of the current players had little to do with the streak and a largely new Tides coaching staff came on board last year. The Tides definitely have the talent to win this game if they can get the ball to their playmakers and execute down the stretch when the pressure mounts.
Peninsula has a lot of smart and tough football players but injuries and inexperience make them slightly vulnerable. One could argue that Seahawks players face the most pressure, both to maintain the winning streak and to not wake up Saturday morning 0-3. But they still will have the swag of a team that has dominated as of late and an advantage in the trenches, where games are often won and lost. Plus they have one of the most experienced coaching staffs in the state.
This game will probably come down to a few big plays. A field goal at the end could win it. But if the Tides are to hoist the Fish Bowl trophy they will have to take it — the Seahawks won’t give it away easily.