By Jon Saperstein Herald Writer
SULTAN — For the first 28 minutes of the Cascade Conference matchup between Sultan and undefeated Lakewood, the game looked like a mismatch.
But it was the Turks — who entered the game with three losses — who were in control.
Then Lakewood’s Blake Watts took over in the second half and the Cougars once again resembled the 2A juggernaut they’ve been this season.
Lakewood rode Watts to a 27-9 triumph, spoiling the Turks’ homecoming and keeping the Cougars tied with King’s atop the conference standings.
The difference was the halftime speech from Lakewood coach Dan Teeter.
“I’m not usually a guy that gets after the guys or yells too much, but we were not executing,” Teeter said. “We were missing open receivers. We were dropping the ball. It was not our style of football.”
The bright spot for the Cougars in the first half was their defense, which stiffened whenever Sultan threatened. The Turks led 3-0 at halftime.
The Turks took the second-half kickoff and drove, as they did four times in the first half, into Cougar territory, but had to punt and downed the ball on the Lakewood 5-yard line.
Watts carried the ball seven times for just 17 yards in the first half, but came out of the locker room a different player.
“Coach told us we needed to pick it up and we did,” Watts said. “Our whole team played awesome in the second half.”
Watts burst through the center of the Sultan defense for 23 yards on the first play after the punt and the game was never the same. The junior quarterback engineered an 11-play, 95-yard drive that he capped with a 5-yard touchdown run. Sultan had a chance to get off the field after a Lakewood false start penalty made it third-and-13, but the Turks grabbed Watts’ face mask on the next play, giving the Cougars a first down.
Watts rushed for 76 yards on that drive and finished the game with 178 yards and three scores on 20 carries.
“He’s been an effective runner,” Teeter said. “We’ve not called on him to run it that much before. We challenged him personally at halftime, too, and he responded exactly how we expected him to. He’s a competitor. He’s worked his tail off. I wasn’t surprised, but it was good to see it happen.”
The Sultan offense responded by driving to the Lakewood 14-yard line thanks to homecoming court members Antonio Rivas and Cooper Beucherie, but the Turks were stuffed on fourth-and-one.
Trailing 7-3, the Turks’ defense was no longer able to contain Watts and the surging Cougar offensive line.
“Size is the big difference,” Sultan coach Ben Murphy said. “As big as they are, when they’ve been leaning on you for two and a half quarters, it’s going to take its toll.”
The Cougars scored the next three times they touched the football, including a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jacob Vanwinkle on Sultan’s first play from scrimmage after giving up the Watts’ second TD.
“I think I got out-coached tonight,” Murphy said shaking his head.
At halftime Teeter didn’t do much coaching. Perhaps it’s best described as motivating.
“We did not talk one ounce of strategy offensively at halftime,” Teeter said. “We just got on them and told them to execute. I told them it was 100 percent your effort and execution. I wanted to see heart and they gave me every bit of that in the second half.”
About the only play the Cougars didn’t execute in the second half was a broken coverage on defense that led to a 47-yard touchdown pass from Deion Bonilla to Rivas that gave Sultan a late fourth-quarter score.
For Sultan, it was the second straight week it couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone when it mattered after losing to King’s 7-3.
“We have to find a way,” Murphy said. “This is two weeks in a row where we’ve gotten in position inside the red zone and we haven’t finished and it’s going to be really hard to win any type of ball game if you can’t finish inside the red zone.”
At Sultan H.S.
Lakewood 0 0 7 20 — 27
Sultan 0 3 0 6 — 9
S—Josh Gonzalez 25 field goal
L—Blake Watts 5 run (Randy Anaya kick)
L—Watts 58 run (Anaya kick)
L—Jacob Vanwinkle 15 fumble return (pass failed)
L—Watts 4 run (Anaya kick)
S—Antonio Rivas 47 pass from Deion Bonilla (run failed)
Records: Lakewood 3-0 league, 6-0 overall; Sultan 2-2, 2-4.