Community Sports

Gig Harbor overcomes deficit, loss of starting QB to win Fish Bowl

Posted on September 16th, 2023 By:

The streak is over. The Tide has turned.

The Gig Harbor Tides overcame a 14-0 deficit and the loss of their starting quarterback to win the 45th Fish Bowl 21-20 on Friday, Sept. 15, at Roy Anderson Field.

To say this game was an instant classic is still somehow an understatement. Thousands of spectators saw Tides senior backup quarterback Benji Park etch his name into Fish Bowl history with a clutch second-half performance. Park completed 9 of 11 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown and ended a seven-year Fish Bowl losing streak for the Tides in the process.

Park scored a one-yard rushing touchdown with exactly a minute left in the game to secure the victory.

“I knew I was getting in (the end zone) before the snap. … I knew the game was over right there,” Park said. “The whole team stepped up. We got multiple stops on defense when we needed it. Everybody did what we needed a to do.”

Gig Harbor senior quarterback Benji Park looks for a receiver in the Fish Bowl win over Peninsula. Photo by Christi Adams

Seahawks take early lead

Peninsula came up with the game’s first big play, a diving interception of Tide quarterback Koi Calhoun’s pass by junior safety Carson Zimmermann. Peninsula moved the ball well but decided against a 39-yard field goal attempt to go for it on 4th and 11. Their quarterback Mana Smythe was tackled short of the line to gain.

The Tides moved the ball with a couple of nice runs by Jayden Mayes, but Calhoun was sacked and fumbled near midfield as the Seahawks’ physical defensive line applied heavy pressure.

The Seahawks took advantage of the turnover when workhorse running back Connor Burton scored on a short run for a 7-0 lead.

After a Gig Harbor drive stalled, Peninsula doubled its lead on a pass from Smythe to slot receiver Hayden Bundy. Key plays on the drive included a couple scrambles by Smythe and a big fourth down conversion near the goal line by Bundy.

Peninsula quarterback Mana Smythe fires for a completion with heavy pressure from the Tides’ Jordan Felton. Photo Bryce Carithers

Calhoun injured

Peninsula’s Thomas Erickson intercepted Gig Harbor quarterback Calhoun on the next drive. The quarterback was injured on the interception return, when two Seahawks pushed a backpeddling Calhoun for several yards before driving him into the turf. The officials threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Calhoun was left writhing in pain on the turf. He remained down for 25 minutes before being taken off the field on a stretcher.

Gig Harbor coach Darrin Reeves said his team played with Calhoun in mind the rest of the night.

“Over the years the same stuff has happened … tonight our guys got tired of it,” Reeves said. “They got tired of seeing their brothers down on the field. The only thing we could do about it was on the scoreboard and that’s what we did.”

The Tides coaching staff and players felt the play was a deliberate attempt to hurt their quarterback. The Seahawks contended he was a would-be tackler who was trying to stop their interception return.

Tides fired up

Either way you look at it, the Tides were a different team after the play. On Peninsula’s possession after the interception, the Gig Harbor defense turned up the intensity and sacked Smythe. The halftime score remained 14-0.

After the break, the Seahawks moved down the field but were hurt by several low snaps. A 32-yard field goal attempt by Ellis Anderson missed wide left.

Then new Tides quarterback Park went to work. He had clear vision from the pocket at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds as he threw successive darts to seniors Drake Matthies and Ben Stevens for first downs. He then rolled right and threw back left for a middle screen to the hard-running Ryland Geldermann, who raced to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. The Tides were back in it at 14-7.

After a couple stalled drives, Peninsula got a big play from Wyatt Abrigo. The junior caught a pass over the middle and raced for 45 yards to the Tide 28-yard line before being tackled from behind. After Smythe converted with a run on fourth and 4, Landon Watson took an inside handoff and followed a pulling guard for a touchdown.

Tides sophomore Keegan Johnson leaped to block the extra point and the score was 20-7.

Gig Harbor’s Ryland Geldermann takes a short pass to the end zone for a touchdown as Drake Matties celebrates in the background. Photo by Christi Adams

Park leads rally

With an inspired offensive line providing ample protection, the Tides went straight down the field and scored within a minute. Park hit Matthies for a 12-yard gain and a first down and then lofted a beautiful spiral to Liam Green for a 27-yard touchdown to make the score 20-14 with 4:54 to go.

The Tides defense stepped up again, tackling Seahawk tight end Cole Muilenburg short of the first down. The Seahawks had to punt.

The Tides received the punt at the Peninsula 45-yard line with 2:57 to go, down by six. Park fired a strike to Matthies, who was making tough catches look routine, for a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, Park found Stevens on a pass to the flat and the receiver broke a tackle and took the ball to the one-yard line as the Tides faithful erupted.

The Tides called timeout and allowed the offensive line to rest before calling a quarterback keeper. Park faked a handoff to Mayes and juked the end before cutting up field, barely stretching out over the goal line for a touchdown to tie the score at 20 with 1:01 to play.

Tide kicker Boone Leverett drilled the extra point and sprinted off the field to his celebrating teammates.

Gig Harbor’s Benji Park scores the winning touchdown in the Tides’ 21-20 victory over Peninsula. Photo by Christi Adams

Postgame comments

The Tides defense stopped Peninsula’s final possession to end what is undoubtedly one of the best games in the series’ 45-year history.

“We knew what we needed to do,” said Liam Green, who had Gig Harbor’s second touchdown. “We’re a family at Gig Harbor and we just kept pushing to get the win.”

Park was worried about his teammate and fellow quarterback after the game.

“I hope Koi is okay,” he said. “I hope he can bounce back and be good.”

Sophomore running back and middle linebacker Ryland Geldermann, who scored his third touchdown in two games, was elated and exhausted after the game.

“This feel great,” he said. “We got pumped up. We’re not going to let anyone do what they did to our quarterback, so we had to respond back and we did.”

The Tides (2-1, 1-0 South Sound Conference) host Capital (2-1) at Roy Anderson Field at 7 p.m. Sept. 22.

Peninsula fell to 0-3 (0-1 SSC) and will look to bounce back at North Thurston at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 before returning home to face River Ridge at 7 p.m. Sept. 29.