High school football games are 48 minutes long — four 12-minute quarters. The No. 20-ranked Eatonville Cruisers needed less than a quarter of that time to take down the No. 10-ranked La Center Wildcats, 35-13, in nonleague action in La Center, Friday.
The Cruisers only needed 11 minutes of offense to dispatch the Wildcats and scored on five of their seven possessions.
On the first offensive play of the night, quarterback Kevin Wulff handed the ball off to Austin Wicker, who took the ball off tackle and shot through a huge hole opened up by linemen Kyle Cox and Julian Evans to outrace the Wildcat defenders 64 yards for the score. Job Kralik converted on the extra point attempt to give Eatonville a 7-0 lead.
Seven plays later, La Center’s Levi Giles mishandled the handoff from quarterback Darren Cepeda, and the Cruisers' Broady Chapman jump on it to give Eatonville possession at mid-field.
Again, the Cruisers' offense was efficient and scored three plays later when Wulff hit a streaking Kralik for a 30-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0.
The Wildcats answered with an 11-play, 77-yard drive that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown strike from Cepeda to Tru Feldman. After a holding call against the Wildcats on the two-point conversion attempt, they settled for the extra point kick to cut the Cruiser lead down to 7.
The Wildcats, who are known to onside kick the majority of their kick offs, tried just that, but Cruiser Brandon Storm fell on the ball at the 50-yard line.
After a big sack on 2- and-10, the Cruisers faced a third-and-long situation. Wulff saw a streaking Kralik, who had separated from his defender, and threw deep to him only to have the ball glance off Kralik’s outstretched fingertip. Eatonville was forced to punt the ball for the first and only time on the night.
With the ball at their own 20-yard line, the Wildcats strung together a 15-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown carry by Cepeda. The Cruiser defense snuffed out the two-point conversion attemp, but the Wildcats cut into the Cruiser lead and trailed 14-13.
The Cruisers answered back quickly with a five-play, 59-yard drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown run by senior linebacker Blain Hanly. After another successful point after attempt, Eatonville extended its lead to 21-13 at the half.
La Center received the kickoff to open the second half, and the Wildcat offense put together a 19-play drive that took up the entire third quarter. Eatonville touched the ball only once during that time, when Hanley picked off a Cepeda pass to end the quarter. The interception proved to be key for Eatonville as it kept the Wildcats from potentially tying up the game.
“Well, after La Center had been putting up multiple great drives against us and our defense in one constant dog fight, I was expecting it to be another run,” Hanly said after the game. “When I read my line, I saw pass and went to my zone. Luckily, all of my defensive backs were in the right spots, and my D-line put great pressure on the quarterback. I was in the right spot at the right time to help end their quarter-long drive.
“It felt weird being in one nonstop drive on defense for an entire quarter, my first time ever, and it felt good to end it with an interception,” Hanly added.
Following Hanly's pick, the Cruisers started the fourth with the ball on their 8-yard line and put together a seven-play, 72-yard drive that included 36-yard pass from Wulff to Kralik and a 23-yard run by Dylan Norman. Wulff capped the drive with a 1-yard run to score. After Kralik’s kick sailed through the uprights, Eatonville increased its lead to 28-13.
After Cruiser Reilly McIlraith forced a fumble on the Wildcats' next possession, the Cruisers took over at the Wildcat 40-yard line. Again, Eatonville wasted no time in moving the ball on the La Center defense. Six plays later, Blain Hanley scored on a 2-yard run, which was followed by a successful extra point to extend Eatonville's lead to 35-13 and conclude scoring on the night.
The Cruisers' squelched La Center's last-ditch effort to score when senior Brandon Storm intercepted a Cepeda pass at the Eatonville 30-yard line.
Following the game, Cruiser head coach Gavin Kralik praised his senior linebacker Hanly for his work in the game, including the key interception.
“Blain has continued to improve each season due to his work ethic and great attention to detail,” Kralik said. “He is like another coach out there on the defense for us. We really appreciate the leadership he provides to our team on and off of the field”
After winning their first three games of the season by a combined score of 141-13, the Cruisers knew this would be a real test for them.
“We knew this was the beginning of a really challenging three-game stretch for us,” Kralik said. “I was really proud of our team’s ability to battle through the adversity that was dealt to us during the game. We have plenty of really talented teams throughout our schedule and our ability to overcome the adversity that will be a part of our path is going to be a big determining factor in how the rest of the season plays out.”
Wulff, who had previously put up big offensive numbers in the Cruisers' first three games, was fairly silent in this one. He went 3-for-6 passing for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Kralik said the Cruisers had many options on offense and multiple players to carry the ball during the game, so Wulff did not have to throw as much.
“We were averaging about a first down per rushing attempt, so we felt like it just made sense to continue with that a bit more than usual,” Kralik said.
Next up, the Cruisers will face the 4-0 Tenino Beavers, who feature a strong running game led by 6 feet, 3 inches, 240-pound Oregon State commit Takari Hickle.
“Tenino is a very well-coached team that will present another strong challenge for our program,” Kralik said.
The Cruiser will host the Beavers at 1 p.m. Saturday at B.W. Lyon Field in Eatonville. Fans are invited to attend the game.
Game Stat Leaders
Passing: Kevin Wulff — 3-of-6 passing for 84 yards and one touchdown
Rushing: Austin Wicker — four carries for 92 yards and a touchdown
Blain Hanley — four carries for 24 yards and two touchdowns
Kevin Wulff — four carries for 17 yards and a touchdown
Receiving: Job Kralik — Two catches for 67 yards and one touchdown
Defense: Blain Hanley – 16 tackles and one interception
Brandon Storm — 11 tackles and one interception
Broady Chapman — four tackles and one fumble recovery
According to the latest Associated Press poll on Sept. 22, the Cruisers are ranked second in the 1A classification. The poll consists of eight to 10 sports reporters throughout the state who submit a top 10 for each classification. The Associated Press then combines all the voter rankings to decide an overall ranking based on a points system.
AP 1A Poll, as of Sept. 22
Class 1A (First-place votes received in parenthesis)
1. Royal (9) 3-0 — 90
2. Eatonville 3-0 — 81
3. Toppenish 3-0 — 71
4. Mount Baker 1-2 — 48
5. Montesano 3-0 — 47
6. Riverside 3-0 — 44
7. Zillah 2-1 — 29
8. Connell 2-0 — 26
9. Lynden Christian 1-2 — 22
10. La Center 2-1 — 19