The Eatonville Cruiser football team knew they would have a tough match-up going into this past Saturday’s game against the Riverside Rams, but the Cruisers were up to the task and came away with a 35-6 victory and a date with the WIAA State 1A Semifinals.
Riverside came into the game with a 10-1 record and a powerful rushing attack led by dual-threat quarterback Silas Ng. Entering the game, Ng had rushed for 772 yards and passed for just under 1,000 yards on the season. The Cruisers knew they had to contain him and held him to only 60 yards rushing and 56 yards passing on the day. They also held the Rams to only 125 yards rushing.
Eatonville’s Blain Hanly had a lot to do with that. Hanly dropped Riverside running backs for losses on many occasions throughout the game.
“Our defense knew coming into this game that this was a very physical team, and they weren’t going to just give us the game,” Hanly said. “We planned for this team just like any other and came in with a very strong game plan thanks to our defensive coordinator.”
Head coach Gavin Kralik was pleased with the play of his senior linebacker.
“Blain has continued to improve each week,” he said. “He is a true student of the game. He asks a ton of questions and is never satisfied with a performance. He seems to play the best in the biggest of situations.”
Riverside scored first on the second possession of the game following an Eatonville turnover at midfield. The Rams made it to the Cruiser 9-yard line before the Cruiser defense held them to a field goal. That was the only time Riverside led in the game, 3-0.
Eatonville’s offense kicked it up a notch in the second quarter.
After forcing a Riverside punt that was downed on the Eatonville 1-yard line, the Cruisers drove 99 yards and capped the drive off when quarterback Kevin Wulff connected with Jakob Lucht on a screen pass from 15 yards, and the Cruisers took a 7-3 lead.
After forcing another Riverside punt, with the ball at the Cruiser 29-yard line and under a minute left in the half, the Cruisers went to work.
On the first play, Reilly McIlraith brought down a 46-yard Wulff pass and went out of bounds to stop the clock at 21 seconds. A few plays later, Wulff then floated a ball over the shoulder of Job Kralik from 9 yards out for the touchdown, and the Cruisers took a 14-3 lead heading into halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Riverside knocked on the door again at the Cruiser 9-yard line. The Eatonville defense again flexed its muscles and held the Rams to another field goal to cut the Cruiser lead to 8 at 14-6.
Eatonville wasted no time responding. The Cruisers' fast-paced offense drove 77 yards, and Job Kralik found the end zone again, this time on a fly sweep from 10 yards out, and the Cruisers went up 21-6.
After forcing another Riverside punt, Wulff found a streaking Kralik across the middle for the score. The Cruisers extended their lead to 28-6.
Eatonville finished scoring on the day when Hanly picked off an Ng pass and raced 35 yards for the score to seal the Cruisers' win.
"I read my line, and that gave me a pass read so I dropped into my zone,” Hanly said about his interception. “Thankfully, our defensive line put great pressure on their QB, and he had to get rid of the ball, making it a very easy catch. After putting pressure on the QB, our defense blocked the entire way down the field, so I could just walk into the end zone.”
The Cruisers' fast-tempo offense took a toll on the Rams' defense down the stretch, which affected the game in the second half.
“We feel like our ability to play with some tempo can really help as long as we are converting first downs and not leaving our defense on the field for extended periods of time,” Kralik said.
With the Cruisers moving on to the final four teams in the state, they will now host the No. 3-seeded Lynden Christian Lyncs in a semifinal matchup that is sure will be Eatonville’s toughest test of the season.
Kralik knows his team has to play their best.
“It is no surprise that they are in the position they are in,” he said of the Lyncs. “They have a big, strong running back and quarterback and are really good on defense. We will need to play really well to win this game.”
Prior to Saturday's game against the Rams, a group of EHS students planned a tailgate party for fans.
“Being where we were at last year with fans having to line up outside of Orting Stadium to watch the game, to be in a position where our entire community can share in the joy of playing this late in the season makes it feel that much more special,” Kralik said of the crowd. “Our kids feel the connection and love from the student body and greater Eatonville community.”
Quarterback Wulff finished the day completing 15 of 20 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball three times for 23 yards.
Running back Dylan Norman carried the ball 18 times for 92 yards.
Job Kralik, with a “club” on his hand from a prior injury, hauled in two passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball three times for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Lucht caught five passes for 65 yards and a score.
McIlraith led the Cruisers in receiving with 81 yards on four catches with his biggest coming right before halftime with a 46-yard catch to set up a Cruiser score.
The Cruisers will host the Lynden Christian Lyncs in a semifinal game Saturday at Art Crate Field at Bethel High School. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. Tickets for the game can only be purchased online at https://gofan.co/app/events/468754?schoolId=WIAA. No walk-up cash sales will be available.