There was not enough late-game magic to keep the Bainbridge Spartans season alive Oct. 31 as the Bonney Lake Panthers recorded the winning touchdown in the final minute of a chilling 35-28 loss in Port Orchard.
The circumstances of the Halloween Night state play-in playoff football game were as odd as they come—both teams coming off short rest after games Oct. 27 to play on neutral turf at South Kitsap High School, only for the winner’s season to continue just four days later in a Saturday date with Monroe.
It’s a scenario coach Dan Schoonmaker has been outspoken about since the controversial change to Bainbridge’s playoff qualifications. “To be here and to not fold under the pressure on such short notice. I’m not happy we lost, but I’m certainly proud of our effort,” he said.
The game succeeded in delivering a nailbiter to the bitter end, though from the coin toss, Bainbridge found itself playing catch-up. Bonney Lake opened the scoring on its first possession, a three-play, 60-yard drive that demonstrated the Panthers willingness to run. The Spartans responded with a three-play drive of their own, capped off by a 37-yard rushing score from junior running back Hugh O’Neill.
Later on, the Panthers used the athleticism of senior Marcus Lloyd to their advantage, converting a fourth down on the way to a 9-yard rushing score.
But Bainbridge, like before, answered immediately with an explosive 43-yard touchdown for junior running back Garrett Goade.
A forced turnover on downs in the red zone by the Spartan defense helped maintain the 14-14 tie at halftime.
Schoonmaker credited his offense for the ground attack that kept them in sight of victory. “We felt we had a good opportunity to run the ball against them,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the elements played into it more than game planning, but I don’t think they notice the cold.”
However, the Spartans were just that coming out of the locker room and through most of the third quarter – ice cold. Two three-and-outs from the offense led to a chance for the Panthers to pull away, seniors Brayden Palmer and Marcus Lloyd recording touchdowns on offense and special teams to put Bainbridge behind 27-14 after BHS blocked an extra point.
Schoonmaker said he knew it would not be done until the clock hit zero. “We mixed up some formations, but I would tell you, our kids play with heart. From the first game of the year, we were down 20-0, and we came back and won that one 47-20. There’s no quit in us.”
The Spartans showed that when it mattered most, mounting a comeback on the back of the junior quarterback Jack Grant. He did it with his arm first, spiraling a 35-yard TD pass to senior wideout Luca Dubitzky.
Bainbridge got the ball back again with 9:06 to go in the game, but a pass from Grant that was intercepted along the far sideline nearly sealed the game for the Panthers. The defense came through three plays later, however, forcing a fumble on a third-down run to get the ball right back.
This time, Grant did not waste the chance, leading a clutch fourth-quarter drive finishing with a goal-line touchdown run of his own.
Just like that, Bainbridge had its first lead of the game 28-27 with just over three minutes left but a tired defense saw Bonney Lake deliver the killing blow.
The Spartan sideline, once filled with jubilation, now looked stunned as Palmer tallied the winning run with 42 seconds left. Grant threw his second pick of the game just minutes later, ending the Spartan season.