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Running game key to playoff success
In September, Bainbridge kicked off the season with one goal in mind: to earn a berth in playoffs. Saturday, the Spartans will make their first playoff appearance since 2006 when they play Rainier Beach in the first round of the Metro League tournament.
The 7:45 p.m. game at Seattle Memorial Stadium will determine seeding for the district playoffs on Nov. 7. A win would give the Spartans (2-3 in the Metro, 4-4 overall) the fifth seed at districts and a matchup against Lindbergh, the top seed from the Seamount League. If the Spartans lose, they would take the sixth seed and face Bellevue, the No. 1 team from the KingCo League.
Before they take on the Vikings (5-1, 6-2), the Spartans must brush off last week’s 17-14 loss to Bishop Blanchet, which came in winless on the season.
“They played extremely hard and we just weren’t there mentally more than anything,” head coach Andy Grimm said. “Mentally, we didn’t come to play. The longer the game went on the more they stayed in it.”
The Blanchet defense stifled Bainbridge’s running game, holding the Spartans to 125 rushing yards. Alex Johnson, who averaged more than 110 yards per game this season, had only 17 carries for 76 yards.
“(Blanchet’s defense) did a good job,” Grimm said. “It’s easier for teams when we’re not being as balanced to kind of pack it in on (Johnson).”
The Braves had nothing to lose and kept the momentum on their side, Grimm said.
“After last week, we just have to get that out of our heads and stay focused, because Beach is a strong team you can’t underestimate,” Johnson said.
But with a few offensive adjustments, the Spartans found success with their passing game on Friday.
In the first quarter, Jordan Wagner completed a touchdown pass to Johnson, who followed up by converting the two-point attempt for the 8-0 lead.
But Blanchet scored two unanswered touchdowns to close out the first half, 14-8.
In the third quarter, Carson Zajonc found Johnson for another touchdown pass, but the Spartans failed on the two-point conversion attempt.
Blanchet won with a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Even though Wagner and Zajonc shared the quarterback position last week, Zajonc will start Saturday, Grimm said.
“Our best chance to win right now is with Carson,” Grimm said.
Offensively, the Spartans will need increased performance from their entire rushing corps.
“We needed to be more efficient with the other guys too,” Grimm says of his running backs. “If other teams know we can run it with our wing and our halfback, they can’t necessarily stack it on (Johnson).”
With two guaranteed post-season games, Johnson – a senior captain – said the Spartans will enjoy their long-awaited playoff ride.
“I think the pressure’s already off,” Johnson said. “Our goal this year is to make playoffs, and we’ve done that.”