Fish Bowl rivals appear evenly matched
One of the biggest athletic and social events in town is upon us. The annual Fish Bowl football game between Peninsula and Gig Harbor is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, at Roy Anderson Field in Purdy.
Sports stories are made possible in part by Joe Davis at Thrivent, a proud sponsor of Gig Harbor Now.
The Peninsula Seahawks won last year’s game in thrilling fashion, storming back from a 28-0 halftime deficit to win in overtime, 35-28.
The overall series is even closer than last year’s game. Forty-three Fish Bowls have been played. Peninsula has won 22, Gig Harbor 21.
This year’s Seahawks opened with a hard-fought loss to Class 2A power Enumclaw (29-27), then earned a decisive win over Class 4A Kentwood, 31-7.
Peninsula runs a multiple-set offense that is difficult to predict. The Seahawks can morph from a ground-attack, two-running back offense that covets ball control into to a up tempo spread attack with five wide receivers. If a defense gets caught with the wrong personnel on the field, Peninsula quickly takes advantage of it.
On defense, they often align in a 3-4 with two high safeties. They rely on pressure from their defensive lineman while spreading out their 4 sure-tackling linebackers to protect against the short pass or wide run.
They are not afraid to blitz a linebacker or safety, but predominantly stay base defense and force the offense to go over the top for big plays. If they are facing a strong running team they easily switch to a 4-3 defense, choosing to roll up a safety for run support if necessary.
One of the Seahawks’ biggest strengths is their experienced coaching staff. Peninsula head coach Ross Filkins is in his 26th year and has probably seen it all on the football field. When he became the coach at Peninsula he was the youngest head coach in the state at just 24 years old.
One of his strengths as a coach is his flexibility. If a style of play is working he will stay with it all night but if not he will change strategies and game plans on the fly to match the need. As a game unfolds and his opponents’ weaknesses come to the surface, Filkins will out coach many with his aggressive style and his ability to take advantage of situations quickly.
The Seahawks have been known to go for it on fourth down, even from their own side of the field. They will run trick plays, on-side kicks or fake punts to gain or hold momentum. The point is, one never really knows what the Seahawks will do next.
The Seahawks’ strength is their stable of running backs and their physical offensive line. They may not have that one dominant running back but they do have 5 talented backs that run north and south and don’t go down easily.
The assortment of running backs Aiden Lester, Connor Burton, Issac Smith, Brady Laybourn and Landon Watson wear down defenses. They combined to rush for 231 yards against Kentwood.
Lester, a senior, has the most experience of the group, scoring two touchdowns against Kentwood while racking up 47 yards in the process. Burton, a junior, has shown a nice combination of size and strength and is a threat with his pass catching skills as well. Laybourn had four catches for 60 yards with a TD against Enumclaw and Smith is a speed burner that can take it to the house if he gets around the corner.
They also have a talented dual threat quarterback in senior Payton Knowles. Knowles is the South Sound Conference MVP in baseball, and his diamond skills show through on the gridiron. He is very accurate throwing darts on the run, which makes him difficult to defend.
Against Kentwood he was 14-22 for 174 yards, with touchdowns passing and running. Against Enumclaw he was 21-36 for 199 yards and 3 TDs.
The Seahawks have talented receivers who are led by senior Dane Meddaugh who continues to make contested catches in traffic and uses double moves to get behind secondaries in a hurry. Meddaugh has 10 catches for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season. Gabe Haver-Brown is also sure handed and is proving to be one of Knowles favorite targets with 9 catches for 97 yards this year.
The Seahawks’ defense is led by 270-pound lineman Grady Johnson, who had 7.5 tackles and a sack against Enumclaw. Also a standout on the defensive line is the 240-pound Tanner Staben, who had 7.5 tackles with a sack against Kentwood.
The secondary is opportunistic and don’t make many mistakes. They are quick and are more than willing to come up and punish a ball carrier or use their ball skills like Meddaugh has from his safety position.
Peninsula has two fine kickers with plenty of leg in seniors Laybourn and Frankie Cross. A wild card for Peninsula is return man Issac Smith who can fly. He opened the season with a 95 yard touchdown against Enumclaw in a run that showcased his strength, balance and break away speed.
The Gig Harbor Tides come into the game 2-0 with a defense that has yet to allow a point. In their first two weeks, the Tides beat Spanaway Lake 20-0 and Bonney Lake 24-0.
Gig Harbor coaches
They used a ball control offense to rush up and down the field in both games but stung each opponent with long passes when defenses tried to stop the run. The back-to-back shutouts are indicative of the style of play that first year head coach Darrin Reeves is striving for.
Reeves has coached at the college level before and has added quite a few energetic and intelligent additions to the coaching staff that come with highly regarded coaching and playing backgrounds.
The additions have had an impact with the players. The coaches are hungry for success and the players can feel it.
“His energy is what you want from a head coach,” defensive back Christian Parrish said. “It honestly feels like we have a 12th man on the field.”
Gig Harbor defense
The Tides play a base 4-3 defense that emphasizes getting to the quarterback and being physical. Their defense is anchored by 285-pound tackle Nic Fortney, who has been collapsing the pocket and will probably have to get through a constant double team against the Seahawks.
Those double teams allow the quick and punishing linebacking crew open lanes to the quarterback and they have taken advantage of it. They chased both opposing quarterbacks from the pocket before they could set their feet and throw. If a defense can get pressure, then the receivers can’t run longer routes. When that happens the routes become predictable and interceptions happen.
Linebacker Colton Oyster has speed and hands, collecting a nifty interception against Spanaway Lake. Linebacker Nick Lang may be the Tides most physical hitter.
The Tides’ secondary may be their biggest strength. Parrish is an explosive ball of muscle with good instincts and closing speed. He led the Tides with six interceptions last year and already has two this season. Defensive back Colin Montgomery is also a fine athlete who plays with a high football IQ.
Gig Harbor offense
The Tides’ offense is explosive as well. They are led by senior quarterback Will Landram, who at 6-foot-6 can see over defenses and sting you with his strong arm.
He prefers to lead his receivers with lofting passes and continuously throws catchable balls. He is a pocket passer but displays his athleticism on roll outs and can also run with his long strides. He is a star on the basketball court and has used a couple of juke moves to freeze defenders before running by them. He has three rushing TDs already this year.
Against Bonney Lake he was 12-19 for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Against Spanaway Lake he threw for 96 yards as Gig Harbor controlled the game rushing. Last year, Landram was a second team all-South Sound Conference quarterback and could end up dueling with Knowles for this years top selection.
The other strength of the Tide offense is its running game, The Tides ripped off 230 yards rushing against Bonney Lake and 191 yards against Spanaway Lake. In both games Gig Harbor got fine efforts from senior running back Blaze Herbert.
He is a compact runner who has spent extensive time in the weight room. He is elusive but will run over defenders if they take the wrong angle on him. He also possess breakaway speed, running for 156 yards, 7.1 yards per carry and a TD against Spanaway Lake and 132 yards and 6.5 yards per carry against Bonney Lake.
Junior Jayden Mayes is a punishing runner and a nice complement to Herbert. He rushed for 41 yards with a 10.1 yards per carry average against Bonney Lake. Nobody runs for those averages without a powerful offensive line. They like the right side over Fortney who is a road grader at right tackle.
The receiving core is done by committee and has been aided by the speedy Parrish, who is playing slot receiver this year. He caught 4 balls for 37 yards against Bonney Lake. Receiver Carson Griffin has blazing speed and sure hands. Gavin Nash is a rugged athlete that will compete and Ben Stephens at 6-foot-5 inches could be an athlete to give the Seahawks trouble on high balls.
Mostly, the Tides have relied heavily on their running backs to catch and run on screens and wheel routes. Herbert has gotten loose downfield and running back, Brady Altman is an emerging weapon who joined the team as a senior.
Sophomore kicker Boone Leverett has been dependable from distance. The big punting leg of Landram has resulted in some 50-yard punts in the past and he is a tricky fourth down threat to throw or run from that position.
Overall, this game seems to be very evenly matched and could come down to a final few possessions in the fourth quarter.
Both teams have weapons, both are well coached and both want to win equally as much. In tight games, limiting turnovers, mental mistakes and penalties are paramount. But even bigger than that is the mental makeup of a team and their ability to control ones emotions and execute under mounting pressure. Whichever team handles that best will probably hold the Fish Bowl trophy above their heads at the end of the game as their roaring fan base celebrates around them.