Spartans stave off Seattle Prep, 34-26

The Spartan football team delivered their most entertaining game of the season to a packed house on Friday by defeating Seattle Prep 34-26 in a game that saw four touchdowns in the final ten minutes.

Even the one bad call of the night, a third quarter pass “completion” at the Spartan one where the Prep receiver was clearly out of bounds – the NFL requires two feet inbounds, the NCAA one, ergo high school requires none? – which led to the Panthers’ second touchdown, was quickly forgotten in post-game euphoria as hundreds of students and other fans poured onto the field.

The win set up Friday’s game with O’Dea for the Sound Division championship as both teams share 5-0 records, and guaranteed that Bainbridge will have the opportunity to compete for a berth in the state playoffs.

While the Irish have won 70 consecutive regular season games and shut out five of seven opponents this year, coach Andy Grimm noted that “the pressure is all on them. They have their winning streak to protect.”

A Spartan win would set up a game against Rainier Beach for the Metro League’s top seed in the playoffs, while a loss means a game – probably against West Seattle – for the final playoff slot.

But these pleasing scenarios got a rude initial shock as Prep shrugged off a holding penalty as Friday’s game began to go 79 yards in two plays.

Highly regarded junior running back Leif Petersen went 19 yards on a sweep to the right, then cut inside to the left and outran the Spartan secondary for a 60 yard score.

Though the extra point was blocked, the Panthers led 6-0 with just over a minute gone.

But as Grimm remarked before the season, this is a team that may bend but won’t break, though they remained bent somewhat longer than many fans would have liked.

The Spartans had two promising drives that stalled and fumbled away excellent field position on the Prep 39 following a short Panther punt on another possession.

But on a third-and-12 situation after the second Spartan punt, a Prep double reverse resulted in a fumble and Bainbridge recovered on the Panther 29.

Gary Duffner ran 14 yards to the 15, Hallum drilled tight end Adam Smith at the one, and Andy Aversano cut inside his own right end for the Spartans’ initial score with just over three minutes left in the half.

Jeff Tracy’s extra point gave the Spartans a 7-6 lead they took into the locker room.

Spencer Evans gave the team a huge lift by returning the second half kickoff 50 yards to the Prep 40. A Panther offside penalty resulted in one first down, and Hallum’s 14-yard hookup to Smith provided another at the Prep 12. Aversano gained five, then Andrew Linne went the final seven on an inside reverse at 8:30. Tracy again converted.

But Prep marched 61 yards in nine plays. The key gains were a long pass down the left sideline and the “phantom feet” reception at the one.

The Spartans held on two rushes up the middle, but on third down Petersen broke to the outside and scored untouched at 4:46. A two-point conversion tied the score.

On the third play following the kickoff, Aversano lined up as the lone back with three receivers split right. Taking the handoff from Hallum, he broke through the line, cut to his left and ran 42 yards to the Prep 27.

The Spartans got a break moments later as the Panthers were flagged for interference on Hallum’s fourth down incompletion to Duffner.

Given new life, the Spartans scored in three plays as Aversano went the final yard between right guard and right tackle for the final yard with 1:32 left in the third quarter. The extra point was no good.

Bainbridge forced a punt and the coaches showed their faith in the team by going for a first down on fourth and one at the Prep 46 with nearly 11 minutes left.

Aversano was swarmed in the backfield but somehow cut upfield and gained two yards.

He romped for 11 more after an offside penalty and caught Hallum’s pass in the right flat for another 13.

Then Walker went 15 yards on an inside reverse, cutting neatly in front of a defender to give Bainbridge a 26-14 lead with 9:435 to play.

The Spartans went for a two-point conversion which not only failed but also left Aversano lying motionless on the four-yard line after being drilled by a Panther defender. He finally got to his feet and limped off the field.

Prep needed just a 31-yard kickoff return and running plays of 37 and 17 yards to score. But Bainbridge caught a break when the point after touchdown was no good.

Aversano made a quick recovery to get back into the game and carry on the first play from scrimmage. But an apparent broken play left Hallum alone in the backfield and a Prep lineman stripped the ball, giving the Panthers a first down on the Spartan 9.

On second down, the Prep quarterback hit a receiver who immediately pitched to a trailing running back for the Panthers’ second touchdown in two minutes. Somehow Prep missed the extra point again to leave the score deadlocked at 26-26.

Taking over at their 37, the Spartans moved methodically downfield on the ground. The big plays were Hallum’s nine-yard run – he faded back to pass but quickly pulled the ball down when he saw an opening – and Linne’s 11-yard inside reverse that put the ball on the eight.

On the next play, Aversano cut inside left end and carefully picked his way into the end zone to culminate a ten-play, four-minute drive.

Again the coaches made a gutsy call, going for the two-point conversion. Three minutes remained, plenty of time for the explosive Prep offense to score a tying touchdown and convert the extra point to win, thereby knocking the Spartans out of the post-season picture.

So they dusted off a play that hadn’t been called all year, matching 6-3 Teddy Picha – a ferocious basketball rebounder – against a smaller cornerback in a fade route to the corner of the end zone.

“We let Teddy choose which corner he wanted to line up against,” said Hallum. “I just threw it up there and he caught it with those big hands of his.”

Picha came down just inbounds to give the Spartans a 34-26 lead. Prep’s final hope ended on fourth down deep in their own end with a long downfield bomb that was knocked away by Liam Corey.

“We knew it would be a shootout,” said Grimm. “Our stats were pretty similar and we matched up pretty well.”

Aversano rushed for 153 yards on 30 carries. Hallum had what he termed “my best game of the season,” completing 12 of 17 for 125 yards. Marc Rasmussen recorded a team-high 11 tackles, while P.J. Holton, Stefan Peter-Contesse and Peter Mandell all had eight.

Prior to the game, ceremonies at midfield honored the team’s 13 seniors: Will Coleman, Hallum, Duffner, Holton, Jarett Jorgenson, Linne, Peter-Contesse, Picha, Rasmussen, Smith, Tracy, Chad Wagoner and Walker.

“We challenged the seniors before their last home game,” said Grimm. “And they provided us with great leadership.”

Bainbridge JVs 22, Chief Sealth JVs 0 – “We had a lot of offense in the first three quarters but couldn’t score,” said coach Mike Roe of Monday’s home game.

That changed in the fourth quarter as the Spartans opened the scoring with a safety.

Robby Furth scored on a 12-yard run, Tyler Bural followed with a 48-yard touchdown run, and Joey Picha threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Zac Townsend. Matt Wauters made two of three extra points.

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