The No. 2-ranked Eatonville Cruiser football team faced it toughest test of the season so far against No. 7 Tenino Saturday and passed that test with a 24-22 victory to improve to 5-0 on the season.
The Cruisers knew coming into this game it would be a battle, and a battle it was.
The Cruisers went on offense first and struck quick. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Kevin Wulff dropped a ball over the shoulder to Jakob Lucht who raced in for the 51-yard score. After the Job Kralik extra point kick sailed through the uprights, Eatonville took an early 7-0 lead.
In response, the Beavers' tactic to help stop the Cruisers from scoring at will was to slow the game down and eat up as much of the clock as possible. During each offensive possession, they waited until the play clock wound down to 5 seconds before snapping the ball. This tactic seemed to work as it limited the number of offensive possessions the Cruisers had in the game, thus keeping the Cruiser scoring down.
On their first offensive possession, and starting at their own 25 yard line, the Beavers put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 34-yard Takari Hickle touchdown run. Dylan Spicer punched in the two-point conversion, and the Beavers took the lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
The Cruisers offense responded five plays later when Kralik took the reverse 50 yards for the score. After the successful extra point, the Cruisers retook the lead 14-8 with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
After bringing the kick off up to their 25-yard line, the Beavers again were slow and methodical in their offense.
The Beavers pounded the ball on the ground behind running backs Hickle, Spicer and Shawn Nicholson. After making their way into Cruiser territory, they faced a fourth and 2. Beaver head coach Cary Nagel elected to go for it, which is something he did almost every time they faced a fourth down during the game.
The Cruiser defense, which struggled all day corralling the Beavers on fourth down got a big stop and took over at their 42-yard line.
The elation from the fourth-down stop faded quickly. On the Cruisers' following play after the stop, the Beaver defense punched the ball out of Wulff’s hands during a designed quarterback keeper. Tenino recovered at the Cruiser 43.
Fourteen plays later, the Beavers reached the end zone again when quarterback Kyson Knox found Bryan Budsberg in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown, giving Tenino the lead back at 16-14 with 43 seconds left until halftime.
The Cruisers once again responded. With time running out, the Cruisers marched down the field, and with twoseconds left on the clock, Job Kralik hit a 40-yard field goal to put the Cruisers back on top, 17-16, at the half.
The Beavers received the second half kickoff and went to work starting at their 30-yard line. After three plays, Tenino faced yet another fourth and 2 situation. The Cruiser defense again came up big and bottled up the big 6-foot-4, 260-pound Hickle and took over on downs at the Beaver 38-yard line.
In true Cruiser fashion, two plays later Kralik took the jet sweep handoff 35 yards for the score. Add the extra point and Eatonville extended their lead to 24-16 with 9:06 left in the third quarter.
The Beavers weren't discouraged. Tenino marched to the Eatonville 23-yard line. Facing a fourth and 20, Tenino’s Knox connected with Max Craig in the back of the end zone, pulling the Beavers within two at 24-22 with 11:54 to play. The Cruiser defense stopped the two-point conversion and held Eatonville's 24-22 lead.
After both defenses stepped up and kept each other out of the end zone, the Beavers had the ball at their own 23-yard line with just under a minute left to play.
Needing to cover a lot of field fast, the Beavers took to the air and attempted only their third pass of the game, but Kralik intercepted that pass at midfield, and the Cruisers wento into victory formation, kneeling on the ball to run the clock out and take the 24-22 win.
“We knew Tenino was a team capable of beating us if we didn't play a good game,” head coach Gavin Kralik said after the game. “Hats off to Tenino for how well they competed. We feel like this wasn't our best game from an execution standpoint. We were fortunate to come out of the game with a victory.”
Eatonville now sits at 5-0 on the season and 1-0 in league play. Next up for the Cruisers is a trip to Montesano Friday to face the currently No.-4 ranked Bulldogs. The Bulldogs dropped their first game of the season this past week to Napavine and will be looking to rebound.
“Montesano is well coached, and their kids play extremely hard,” Kralik said. “They do a lot of things on offense and defense that can make things really hard for their opponents. They also are the best team we have played so far on special teams, so we will need to compete and execute really well in the kicking game to help our chances of coming out on top.”
Game Stat Leaders
Passing: Kevin Wulff — 7/10 passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Job Kralik — 3 rushes for 90 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Jakob Lucht — 2 receptions for 54 yards, 1 TD