Sports

Spartans stymie Squalicum in opener

Open-field action in Friday
Open-field action in Friday's gridiron play.
— image credit: JIM MEYERS photo

If the mark of long-term improvement is rising expectations, then the Bainbridge High School football program is on the right track.

Consider how recently the Spartans would have been happy with a victory, any victory.

In that light, it’s a giant step forward that Friday’s opening-night 19-7 win over Squalicum was greeted with considerable self-criticism, rather than jubilation.

“I’m happy with the win,” coach Andy Grimm said, “but if we were playing in Metro League competition, we wouldn’t be ready, and the kids know that.”

On paper, Squalicum of Bellingham was a mirror image of the Spartans – a 3A school that sported a respectable 6-3 record last year. But according to Grimm, the Storm had lost a number of key players, making the visitors something of an unknown quantity.

Friday, Bainbridge wasted little time taking control of the game.

The Spartans got good field position after an opening exchange of punts when Scott Burkland’s 10-yard kick return in traffic gave them possession at the Storm’s 37-yard-line.

Spencer Evans’ 13-yard gain on a reverse behind fine blocking from the right side of the offensive line gave Bainbridge a first down at the visitors’ 23. After an incomplete pass and unsuccessful run brought up a third-and-13 situation, junior quarterback Joey Picha responded by finding Spencer Evans for a 15-yard gain.

From there, fullback Andy Aversano powered 8 yards for the touchdown – again behind the blocking of Liam Maher, Chris Pierce and Mike Wauters – to put Bainbridge on the board with 5:37 left in the first quarter.

Although the Sparts missed the kick, it didn’t take long for them to pad their lead. On Squalicum’s first play from scrimmage, the defense forced a fumble, which Mike North recovered on the Squalicum 41.

A swing pass to Burkland for 16, and another six-yard sweep by Burkland put the ball on the Squalicum 5. From there, Evans swept around the right end for a second touchdown with 3:42 to go.

The visitors did begin to show some signs of offensive life on the ensuing kickoff, but their most productive play was a straight handoff up the middle.

When they tried most anything else – a pass or a run to the outside – the Bainbridge defense made them pay.

All-league returnee Peter Mandell was notable, stopping several drives with a sack or a tackle in the backfield for a loss.

“He’s an all-league performer for us,” Grimm said. “He is particularly good at really punching in from the outside.”

Bainbridge added another TD right before halftime. The Sparts had lost a scoring opportunity with a fumble on the Squalicum 7-yard-line, but Mandell and Chris Pierce kept the Storm deep in their own territory, giving Bainbridge the ball on the Storm 38 with less than a minute left to go.

After a third-down completion to Mike Ersser kept the drive alive, Picha found Evans alone in the end zone for a picture-perfect 28-yard touchdown. Thomas Armitage’s conversion gave the hosts a tidy 19-0 lead at intermission.

While the second half was more even statistically, Bainbridge maintained control throughout, principally through the tough running of Aversano.

“We may have gotten a little tired in the second half,” Grimm said. “We made some mental mistakes and had some penalties, but it was good to see the kids persevere.”

Squalicum’s lone tally came when a Picha swing pass was picked off by a blitzing linebacker, who took it 78 yards for a third-quarter score.

For the night, Bainbridge totalled 219 rushing yards. Aversano led the way with 105 yards on 19 carries, followed by Burkland, who had 67 yards on nine carries.

Evans had 20 yards on four tries, and Derek Houston carried twice for nine yards.

Through the air, the Sparts gained 152 yards. Ersser was the top receiver, with 52 yards on five catches, followed by Evans, who hauled in two passes for 46 yards, Aversano with two catches for 29 yards, and Burkland, who caught one 15-yarder.

On defense, Mandell led the way with five principal tackles, including two sacks, and five assists. Other leading tacklers were Mike Underwood, Aversano, Ersser, Pierce and North.

And when Squalicum began to pass late in the game, Liam Corey made a number of nifty saves, batting down a fourth-down pass in the end zone to stem Squalicum’s only serious scoring threat.

Picha, making his first varsity start, took every snap, completing 10 of 22 passes for all 152 Spartan aerial yards, and rushing for 18 yards on three carries.

Despite the successful debut, Picha wasn’t altogether pleased.

“Our defense and the offensive line played well, but I wasn’t satisfied,” he said. “It’s good to get the victory, but we need to step up and improve our performance next week.”

Bainbridge hosts Renton Friday for Homecoming in a 7 p.m. game.

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