Sodden Spartans nearly swamp O’Dea

The Spartan football team came ever so close to washing away O’Dea’s 70-game regular season winning streak in a game played in a constant heavy pelting rain, but came up just short in Friday’s 12-7 defeat.

Disappointed with the loss and convinced that they’d played the city’s premier program on virtually even terms, most members of the team would have loved another shot at the Irish.

They might get it.

If the Spartans defeat West Seattle in tomorrow afternoon’s crossover game matching the second-place teams in Metro’s Sound and Mountain Divisions, they would become the Metro League’s #5 seed in the state playoffs.

That would bracket them with three teams from the Mid-Valley and/or Frontier Leagues, spread among ten counties in Central and Eastern Washington.

To advance, Bainbridge would have to face the rigors of two lengthy road trips, in addition to the necessity of overcoming two quality opponents on successive weekends. Difficult, but not impossible.

Similarly, O’Dea would have to defeat Rainier Beach – which is far from a given – in the Metro League championship game, then win its first two playoff games.

All the elements of this somewhat longshot scenario falling into place would create a return Bainbridge-O’Dea matchup in the 3A semifinals.

At some point in their Eastern Washington odyssey, however, the Spartans almost certainly would have to defeat Prosser, a sort of cross-Cascade version of O’Dea. However, beating a prime program such as Prosser is not as remote as it might have seemed even a year ago in light of Friday’s gritty performance.

After spotting the Irish a pair of first quarter touchdowns, the Spartan defense shut them down the rest of the way, removing some of the mystique from one of the state’s most vaunted programs and converting it into a bunch of guys standing disconsolately on the sidelines in sodden maroon jerseys.

Accustomed to blowing out their opponents and giving quality time to many of the 80-some players who suit up, O’Dea found itself with the necessity of playing its first stringers the entire game, as Bainbridge held them well under their previous average of 45 points a game.

Only the Spartans’ inability to take advantage of two second-half possessions starting inside the O’Dea 35 prevented them from pulling off what would have been one of the biggest wins in school history.

“The best part was seeing the fear in their eyes,” said Coach Andy Grimm. “Their starters are usually done at halftime.”

For a while it appeared that might be the case again, as the Irish scored relatively easily on their first two possessions.

Chancellor Young, the son of former All-Pro tight end Charle Young, scored from 16 yards out at 5:31 and highly touted Division I recruit Dominic Dixon went into the end zone untouched from the six three minutes later.

But after that, a Spartan defensive change put in especially for the game – adding Matt Wauters as an extra lineman to replace weakside linebacker Andy Aversano – began to take effect.

“We wanted to keep their linemen off our linebackers,” Grimm explained. “We told our linemen to chop them, knock their feet out. We didn’t expect them to get many tackles.”

The move also provided some respite for Aversano, who hadn’t had contact work all week because of a leg injury suffered the previous week against Seattle Prep. Inserted into the game on the Spartans’ third possession, he eventually rushed for a game-high 90 yards and on one memorable occasion carried Dixon on his back for at least 10 yards before finally being tackled.

But the Spartans couldn’t sustain any long drives and the half ended with the Irish ahead 12-0.

Bainbridge had its first golden opportunity on the second play of the second half. O’Dea fumbled, and the Spartans recovered on the Irish 47. Aversano carried on the first play and an O’Dea player twisted the ball loose and recovered. But the whistle had blown. The Irish drew a quick unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for protesting too vigorously, putting the ball on the 26.

But Bainbridge couldn’t take advantage of the situation, as the wet, soggy football slipped away on the center-quarterback exchange on fourth down.

The Irish began a time-consuming, 14-play drive punctuated by two holding penalties that eventually resulted in a punt.

Linebacker Chad Wagoner may have saved a touchdown on one play by taking Dixon down from behind on a well-conceived sweep that had lots of blocking out front.

The Spartans responded with their one good drive of the game. Taking over on their own 23, they picked up three first downs, the final one coming on Clayton Hallum’s key fourth down 10-yard completion to Spencer Evans at the O’Dea 40.

Three plays later, on fourth and 12, Hallum broke away from one tackler, then as he was being hit by another found Kenny Walker open in the middle at about the 15 and the wingback took the ball in for the touchdown with 9:07 remaining. Matt Wauters’ extra point was good and suddenly the Spartans could smell the win.

But Young returned the kickoff 30 yards and the Irish ran several minutes off the clock before punting.

Taking over on the 20 with just over four minutes remaining, the Spartans went nowhere and punted, even though time was decidedly against them. But it turned out to be the right call as the Irish didn’t drop anyone back and the ball rolled dead on the O’Dea 38. Dixon promptly fumbled a pitchout – the fourth time he put the ball on the ground – and the Spartans recovered at the 34.

But on second and eleven, Hallum’s pass appeared to slip out of his hand and sailed well beyond Picha – wide open at the 20 – to Dixon. He bobbled the ball momentarily before holding on to end the Spartan threat and the Irish ran out the clock.

“There was some sadness, because we were so close,” said Grimm. “But I made sure that the kids knew what they had done. It’s okay to feel bad, but think about what we accomplished. We were so close. They kept in it, even when they could have been stormed under in the beginning.

“I think we made a statement,” he added. “We’re going to be in this league for a while, and we let them know that you need to be ready to play Bainbridge Island.”

“Now it’s on to West Seattle,” said Wagoner. “They better be afraid.”

Seattle Prep JVs 12, Bainbridge JVs 9 – The visiting Panthers scored with about three minutes left to secure the win. They broke on top in the first quarter 6-0, then Bainbridge scored a safety in the second quarter. The Spartans took a 9-7 lead in the third quarter on Joey Picha’s one-yard quarterback sneak and Matt Wauters’ extra point, but couldn’t hold the lead as their season record dipped to 4-2, snapping a five-game winning streak following the season-opening 41-7 loss to O’Dea.

“We came back after that and got stronger every game,” said coach Mike Roe. “Even against Prep we outgained them, but kept goofing up offensively - fumbles, interception, penalties.

“Overall, this was a pretty good group. They played well as a team.”

Bainbridge frosh 20, Roosevelt frosh 13 – The Spartans concluded their season with a win over 4A Roosevelt last Wednesday at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium.

Led by Billy Thomas, a lineman turned quarterback in just his fourth day in his new position, the Spartans ran for over 200 yards. Angelo Ritualo was the leading rusher with 108 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown.

Zach Smith scored on an 80 yard run early in the first quarter. Adam Heinbach scored a touchdown after James Tjemsland recovered a fumble on the Roosevelt 3.

Coach Sean Eaton singled out the linemen as a key factor in the team’s 5-2 record. The group included Thomas, Francis Toglia, Heinbach, Thomas Curran, David Wesolowski, Nathan Whitmore, Chris Hurran, Austin Hinderer, Tjemsland, Kirk Nordby, Brian Hannon and Lucas Clark.

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