Struggling to stop the Tenino run game at times, the Eatonville defense stepped up when it counted as the top-ranked Cruisers came away with a 27-22 victory over the No. 6 Beavers this past Friday at Beaver Stadium in Tenino.
With the victory, the Cruisers remain undefeated at 5-0 overall and 1-0 in league games.
“Tenino’s system presents challenges for an opposing defense,” Eatonville head coach Gavin Kralik said. “They are really good at it, and it is a unique system to prepare for.”
How it happened
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Cruisers turned the ball over right away, as Tenino’s Kaden Sayamnet intercepted quarterback Job Kralik’s first pass at the Beaver 35-yard line.
Tenino then capped its drive with a Randy Marti 1-yard touchdown plunge. The two-point conversion was successful, and Tenino took an early 8-0 lead.
Eatonville answered back with a four-play, 56-yard drive that ended with Kralik keeping the ball for a 25-yard scoring run to pull Eatonville to within one at 8-7.
After forcing a Tenino punt, the Cruisers set up shop at their 28-yard line. They then advanced to the Beaver 35. Facing a fourth and inches, Kralik kept the ball and reached the end zone to put Eatonville on top, 14-8.
Tenino answered back with a Dylan Spicer 82-yard touchdown run. The Cruisers stopped the two-point conversion, and the game was tied at 14.
After falling on the squib kick, Eatonville started first and 10 at its 43. On the first play, Kralik handed off to Dylan Norman, and he was off to the races. Norman outran the Beaver defense for a 57-yard score to put the Cruisers up 21-14, which held into halftime.
Back and forth in second half
After returning the second-half kickoff to midfield, Tenino advanced to the goal line and faced a fourth-and-goal. The Cruiser defense flexed its muscles and denied a touchdown.
The Cruiser offense stalled and punted back to the Beavers, who took over at their 20. Spicer struck again with an 80-yard touchdown run; after a successful two-point conversion, Tenino back on top, 22-21.
After starting at their 46, Eatonville faced a crucial fourth-and-1 at the Tenino 34. Norman got the call and picked up the first down on a long run to put the Cruisers in the red zone. Kralik capped the drive a few plays later when he leaped into the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, but Eatonville stole the lead back at 27-22 with 8 minutes left in the game.
Employing the same tactic they used the last time the teams met, Tenino ran the play clock down to 1 second on every snap to limit Eatonville’s offensive plays.
That set the Beavers up just where head coach Cary Nagel wanted them, with the ball and about a minute left in the game.
Facing a third and 11 at the Cruiser 29, the Eatonville defense took down quarterback Cody Strawn for minimal gain after he was flushed from the pocket. That forced the Beavers into a fourth-and-9 situation with 37 seconds left.
The Beavers then faced an unfamiliar situation — throwing a pass. Strawn dropped back and let one fly, but it was batted down to the black turf by Cruiser defender Ky Nation, allowing Eatonville to take over on downs and go into victory formation with 29 seconds remaining,
“We actually had a special pass play that we’d been working on for this game ready for the previous play,” Nagel said to Scorebook Live’s Doug Drowley. “But we had a missed assignment, and our quarterback was forced to run with it. We had a guy wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. But that’s the way it goes. You miss an assignment against a really good team, you lose, 27-22.”
Defense gets it done
With the exception of some long touchdown runs, the Eatonville defense contained the Beavers’ running game.
Kralik said the goal-line stand by the defense and another key defensive stop late in the game were critical.
“Our defense battled, and without the goal-line stand and the stop at the end of the game, we do not win this game,” he said. “Tenino also played great defense. We were limited in possessions in the second half, which made it more challenging to get into much of a rhythm.
“We were proud of how our kids battled on the road against a very good opponent and found a way to win in the end.”
Eatonville's defense held a Tenino team averaging 425 yards of total offense to 313 yards.
“It was a total defensive effort,” defensive coordinator Rex Norris said. “We had 18 players record a tackle. Most notably was Payton Hanly, who had 14 tackles and first-year player in the program Evan Wimbles, who had three-and-a-half tackles for loss.”
Norris said other big contributors for the Cruisers included Max Henley with seven tackles, as well as captains Tristan Lewis and Kyle Cox, who made several key stops. Although Tenino broke off long touchdown runs, without those two plays happening, Eatonville posted its best overall defensive performance of the season against a top contender.
Eatonville’s Norman went past 100 yards rushing for the third straight game, ensuring his offensive linemen would receive donuts on Monday. He led the Cruisers with 145 yards rushing on 21 carries. Kralik carried 18 times for the Cruisers for 135 yards and three scores.
The Cruisers will host the No. 10-ranked Montesano Bulldogs (4-1, 0-0) on Friday for Eatonville's homecoming game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.