Spartans stun Vikings in season opener

Bainbridge Spartans coach Andy Grimm and North Kitsap Vikings coach Jerry Parrish are veterans of their respective football programs.

But ask either the last time the Spartan gridders toppled their neighbors across Agate Passage, and you won’t get a quick answer.

“It’s been a long time since we beat North,” said coach Grimm, a native islander. “I’d have to check the books.”

The game that took place Friday evening was one for the books, with the dueling senior quarterbacks Grant Leslie of BHS and Jared Prince of NK tossing a combined 10 touchdowns and 500 passing yards. When they were finished, the Spartans had topped the Vikings 44-41, with the edge coming from Spartan Angelo Ritualo’s field goal in the final three minutes of play.

“This was just an incredible high school football game,” Grimm said. “I don’t think you could ask for more.”

The 3A Metro League Spartans (1-0) relied heavily on Leslie, who was 10-for-14 for 220 yards in the air.

Prince, too, did his part with five touchdown passes for 322 yards.

“I knew it was gonna be a shootout,” Grimm said. “The question was, who was going to come out on top.”

The Spartans kept North off-balance with a myriad of formations and player combinations.

“We rotated a lot of guys through,” Grimm said. “We used our variety to keep them honest.”

The Bainbridge-North Kitsap rivalry dormant for years, reignited last year when the two gridders’ teams met at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1992. In that contest, a bigger North squad busted through the Spartan’s defense for six rushing touchdowns en route to a 45-19 win.

Friday, it was a new season and a new game.

Bainbridge drew the first blood – much to the surprise of the home crowd – when Leslie threw for a 30-yard touchdown to Sean Callahan at 8:43 in the first quarter.

A facemask penalty put North on the Spartans’ 18-yard-line, setting up Prince’s first delivery, a floater down the sideline to Jordan Henry to tie the game, 7-7.

Momentum appeared to shift in North’s favor when Travis Tobin intercepted Leslie, and Andy Sturza broke through the Spartan defense for a 35-yard score, North’s only rushing touchdown of the game.

Would the Vikings – looking impressive after an interception, rushing and passing touchdown – begin to live up to oddsmakers’ expectations?

That notion was disproved on a single play, one that not only demonstrated Leslie’s abilities at quarterback but also that North had holes on defense.

With the ball on North’s 49-yard line, Leslie went to the air with a high, arching pass that was six-points the second the pigskin left his fingers. Ritualo caught the pass with not a Viking in sight, knotting the game at 14.

Prince fired another touchdown – this time a 40-yard pass to Sturza – with 2:19 left in the second. But a dropped pass by North in the backfield resulted in another Spartan touchdown, a 25-yard fumble return by Callahan.

With time winding down in the half, North capitalized on a drive of short passes and picked up first-and-goal on a pass interference call.

At fourth down and eight yards to go – and time expired – Prince found Tobin on the far sideline, with the Vikes’ senior wide receiver doing some well-timed acrobatics to give North a half-time lead, 27-21.

Bainbridge Island quickly regained the lead in the third quarter, with Leslie throwing both 51-yard and 6-yard touchdown passes to tight end Blake Jensen to take a 34-27 lead with 5:32 to go.

It was North’s turn to play catch-up, with Prince again finding Tobin for a 49-yard touchdown with seconds left in the third.

With 12 minutes left in regulation, it was a new ballgame. The “last-team-to-score” mentality was in full effect, and defensive stops were few.

Ritualo played hero for the Spartans, coming up with a 33-yard catch from Leslie to take the lead 41-34.

Prince answered on a booming 56-yard pass to Sturza to tie.

North Kitsap held steadfast on their own 5-yard line against the Bainbridge attack, but the Spartans took the lead behind a 30-yard Ritualo field goal to go up 44-41.

Two drives by North to tie or take the lead came up empty, the last of which ended on an interception with 16 seconds to go. A mass celebration ensued on the Spartans’ sideline, while NK’s fans left in silence.

Grimm said he believes the game ultimately came down to confidence – which team believed they could win more.

“(A) 4A school, Jared Prince, North Kitsap – it all didn’t matter,” Grimm said. “The kids just believed they could do it.”

Ritualo finished the game with three catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns, a long of 49 yards.

Blake Jensen and Tyler Hannon each had two catches, for 54 yards and 35 yards, respectively.

The Spartans tallied 120 team rushing yards on 43 carries. They were led by the scrambling Leslie, who picked up 39 yards on 15 runs and a long of 14 yards.

Zach Smith picked up 33 yards on six carries, Zach Kornfeld 32 on eight.

Beyond his heroics catching and kicking, Ritualo amassed 178 yards on five kickoff returns, an average of better than 35 yards per attempt.

Defensively, Ritualo and Hannon recorded double-digits in tackles and assists, with Kornfeld, Zach Mallove and Lucas Clark also contributing.

The Spartans open home play this Friday with a 7 p.m. contest against the Nathan Hale Raiders.

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