The Eatonville Cruisers, carrying the weight of a tragic loss that struck their team earlier in the week, marched into Hoquiam's Olympic Stadium with heavy hearts and took care of business, shutting out the Grizzlies 40-0 in a poignant and emotional regular-season finale. The win secured their 2nd place finish in the 1A Evergreen League.
Upon entering the stadium, fans were met with a touching tribute as Hoquiam had painted blue number 33's on each of the 33-yard lines in memory of Eatonville player Jason Naro, who wore #33 and tragically lost his life in a car accident earlier in the week. Both teams donned #33 stickers on their helmets to honor their fallen teammate.
Eatonville Head Coach Rex Norris expressed his gratitude for the support and compassion shown by the Hoquiam program, saying, "It was really special to see what Coach McKinnon and the Hoquiam program did for our families and players. To be thoughtful and understanding was amazing and appreciated. It has been a very hard week for all impacted."
The Cruisers initially sputtered on their first possession and turned the ball over on downs, but they quickly turned the tide.
Fueled by a burning desire to "Win for Jason," the Cruisers embarked on a 90-yard march down the field on their next possession, highlighted by an 80-yard catch and run by Griffin Clevenger, taking them to the 5-yard line. Dylan Norman capped the drive with a 3-yard rush into the end zone. Payton Hanly added a two-point conversion, giving the Cruisers an early 8-0 lead.
The Cruiser defense was relentless, forcing the first of many three-and-outs, and the Grizzlies were forced to punt.
Starting from their own 27-yard line, Eatonville went on another 75-yard journey, culminating in Ky Nation hauling in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Klumpar. Colton Herbrand's successful extra point extended the lead to 15-0 late in the first quarter.
The Cruisers' defense continued to dominate, forcing yet another three-and-out, and Eatonville didn't waste any time. Dylan Norman found the end zone again, this time from 11 yards out, with Payton Hanly connecting with Riley Storm for the two-point conversion, pushing Eatonville ahead 23-0 early in the second quarter.
With a third consecutive three-and-out by the Grizzlies, Eatonville took over at their 37-yard line following a punt. A few plays later, Nation and Klumpar connected once more, this time for a 58-yard touchdown reception. Herbrand's extra point was good, and Eatonville commanded a 30-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Cruiser defense continued to stifle the Grizzlies, and an electrifying punt return by Clevenger put the ball at midfield. Cole Fowler took over at quarterback, and the Grizzlies' Trevor Turpin briefly brightened their spirits by intercepting a Fowler pass at the Grizzly's 28-yard line and running it 61 yards to the Cruiser's 11-yard line. However, they couldn't capitalize and turned the ball over on downs after missing a 34-yard field goal attempt. Eatonville headed into the locker room at halftime with a 30-0 lead.
After another Hoquiam punt, the Cruisers took over at midfield. Thirteen plays later, they set up at the Hoquiam 7-yard line. Facing a 2nd and Goal, the field goal unit was sent in, and the significance was not lost on the crowd. A field goal would push the score to 33-0, a tribute to Jason's number 33. Colton Herbrand made the 24-yard field goal, and in a touching moment, the entire team and staff knelt down at the 33-yard line to honor their fallen teammate in a moment of silence. Not a dry eye was in the stadium as the crowd stood and applauded the heartfelt tribute.
The idea to honor Naro's memory in a meaningful way during the game wasn't initially part of the game plan. Coach Norris explained, "It was not an initial thought going in. We knew we wanted to do something special. As the game played out, it was an idea that was brought to the coaching staff by the players. It is a testament to the culture that has been created here by Coach Kralik and what we are trying to maintain. We have special kids. You are trying to win a game, and players are trying to contribute because of all the work they put in. It is special to see individuals set that aside and do something that is bigger than themselves. It was perfect."
Hoquiam managed to reach midfield on their next possession but were thwarted by the Cruiser defense yet again, turning the ball over on downs and setting up Eatonville for their final scoring drive of the night. With the ball at midfield, Boedy Porter delivered a 25-yard run down to the Grizzly 25-yard line. Klumpar connected with Clevenger for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and Herbrand's extra point was good, giving the Cruisers a commanding 40-0 lead.
Both teams exchanged turnovers on downs in their next possessions, and on their final attempt, Hoquiam drove to the Cruiser 16-yard line. They attempted a trick play with quarterback Joey Bozich pitching to Dominic Standstipher, who then tried to connect with Aden Bryson, but Eatonville’s Michael Stogsdill intercepted the pass at the 1-yard line, denying the Grizzlies a score. Stogsdill returned the interception to the 9-yard line, and the Cruisers kneeled on the ball to run out the clock, sealing the emotional 40-0 victory.
Courtesy Trinity Potter
Hoquiam painted "33's" in honor of Jason Naro at both 33-yard lines prior to the game.
After the game, the team's captains shared their feelings about the tribute and the emotional win.
Riley Storm spoke about the team's motivation, saying, "It was a very hard moment when we learned he had passed. We wanted to do something to honor him during the game, so we decided to go for 33 points. Once we got there, it was a moment to realize why we are playing this sport and who we are playing for."
Payton Hanly expressed the importance of the tribute, "Running to the sideline after that field goal and kneeling together for a moment of silence felt awesome, and I believe Jason deserves every bit of the honor that he got in the game."
Max Henley underscored the unity and determination of the team, “Losing such a great friend like Jason, really causes a lot of hurt especially when he played such a positive role in our lives. After this week, I realized what Jason has done for this team. Our team has come together as one so much that it gave us the spirit to put up those 33 points on the scoreboard for him and then the final touchdown.”
Dylan Norman added, “The passing of Jason has put a strain on all of our hearts, it was so shocking and heartbreaking to hear. He was a brother and a part of our family and it just doesn’t feel real that he is gone. Me and some other players were discussing how could we support and have Jason with us during the game, getting 33 points was the idea we decided on. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we knew we could do it. We got to 30 points and we knew this was going to be the time to do it. We got the ball in the middle of the field and let Colton do his thing, his kick got us to 33 points and we all knew we had done it for Jason. We kneeled together because we were having a moment of silence for him. We wanted to let him know we were doing it for him. I can’t thank Hoquiam enough for everything that they did for us and the amount of support they showed us.”
This emotional victory marked Eatonville's fifth of the season, pushing their overall record to 5-4 and 3-1 in 1A Evergreen League play, securing a 2nd place finish and the #2 seed in the Southwestern Washington District 4 playoffs. They will host the #3 seeded Castle Rock Rockets from the 1A TriCo league at Art Crate Field located at Bethel High School on Thursday, November 2nd, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
A celebration of life was planned for Jason Naro on Oct. 30, following the JV football game at Eatonville High School, starting at roughly 8 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend and pay their respects to honor Jason and his achievements.
H. Klumpar – 17/22 passing, 310 yards, 3 touchdowns
D. Norman – 6 rushes, 45 yards, 2 touchdowns
G. Clevenger – 5 catches, 140 yards, 1 touchdown
K. Nation – 3 catches, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns
This was a rough one for me as Jason was a player of mine when I coached with the Eatonville Jr Cruiser football organization so his passing really hits home.