Spartans beat Storm on late heroics

Joe Picha found the end zone on a quarterback sneak with three seconds to play Friday, giving the Bainbridge Spartans varsity football team a 21-18, non-league triumph over the Squalicum Storm in Bellingham.

The play capped a heady comeback from a late 18-7 deficit, after an end-zone interception by Spartan safety Derek Houston against a taller receiver prevented the Storm from sealing the win for themselves.

Following the touchback, Bainbridge marched 80 yards and drew within five points on an Angelo Ritualo touchdown with about two minutes to go. The two-point conversion failed.

An onside kick was recovered by Squalicum, but Bainbridge reclaimed the ball at midfield on a fumble just two plays later.

More Ritualo running and a pass completion to Mike Ersser put the Spartans on the Storm two yard line with less than a minute to play, before senior quarterback Picha cracked the goal line for the final time.

Anxiety reigned on both sidelines; the clock nearly ticked itself to zeroes while referees sorted through the pile before finally signaling six points.

Houston then burst in for a two-point conversion, and the Storm could do nothing with a squib kickoff as time ran out.

“It was a lot of fun to see (team) character,” Spartan coach Andy Grimm said of the victory. “We always talk about not giving up, being patient, and who’s going to be the person to step up.”

It was senior receiver Zach Townsend who stepped up in the third quarter, scoring on a 28-yard catch-and-run to light up the scoreboard after a first half of offensive futility.

The game might have been out of reach by that point, but for Squalicum’s collective inability to hang onto the pigskin.

Notwithstanding strong line play and some 292 yards of team rushing on the evening, poor exchanges were the hallmark of the Storm’s double tight end option.

Squalicum runners put the ball on the turf six times during the contest. Bainbridge defensive end Mike North recovered three Storm fumbles, while Matt Nelson and Scott Rasmussen recovered one apiece.

Houston also recorded a first-half interception to keep the Storm at bay.

“They kind of left the door open,” Grimm said. “They kept giving us opportunities, like they weren’t ready to win the game yet – ‘here’s the ball.’”

Working from the fullback position, Houston led the Spartans with 62 yards rushing on 11 carries, while wingback Angelo Ritualo ran up 56 yards on nine attempts.

Picha finished with 168 yards on 12-for-27 passing.

Townsend caught four passes for 67 yards, and Ersser hauled in three for 42 yards.

North and Draper were the defensive stalwarts, getting in on 13 tackles apiece. Zach Ainsley recorded a quarterback sack.

The win leveled the Spartans’ overall record at 1-1, a welcome rebound after a season-opening, non-league drubbing at the hands of North Kitsap.

“It was a fun ride home,” Grimm said.

The Spartans used six different running backs in the contest, with the coach citing backfield depth as among the team’s strengths in early season play.

They prevailed Friday without senior halfback Nick Linne, who was banged up during a strong showing in the season opener but who should be suited up for action this week.

The Spartans travel to Renton Friday evening for a 7 p.m. game against the Indians.

Spartan JVs: Monday’s scheduled game against the North Kitsap Vikings was cancelled when the officials failed to show up.

Now the team will see its first action on Sept. 22, when Rainier Beach comes to Bainbridge for a 5 p.m. contest on the Spartan gridiron.

The frosh squad opens play this Saturday in a 12 p.m. contest against Bishop Blanchet at the Loyal Heights field in Seattle.

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