By Aaron Swaney For the Weekly Herald
EVERETT — Knocked around and reeling after turning the ball over twice in the first half and suffering a number of sacks and plenty of pressure, West quarterback and former Lake Stevens standout Jake Nelson was feeling something he rarely felt during the regular season.
“I think he was a little bit frustrated at halftime, just because he’s not used to not having success,” said West head coach and Auburn coach Gordon Elliott. “But that’s probably the best defense he’s played against. It was nothing against him; we just weren’t protecting him very well, and he had to hurry things.”
With better protection in the second half Nelson hit his stride, throwing two touchdown passes, including one to former Lake Stevens teammate Christian Gasca, to lead the West to a 28-21 victory over the East in the East-West All-Star Football Game June 30 at Everett Memorial Stadium.
For Nelson, who took nearly every snap of the game for the West, it was a dose of revenge. One player and a majority of the coaches, including head coach Steve Kizer, on the East team were from Skyview, the team that knocked Lake Stevens out of the state playoffs in November.
“They knocked us out and I wanted to get them back pretty bad,” said Nelson with a slight smile. “It was just one kid and most of their coaches, but it feels pretty good.”
Nelson wasn’t the only West player with revenge on his mind. After the East team handed the West a 19-0 shellacking last year, many players on the West team felt they needed to protect the West’s reputation.
“Everybody was saying that the East had won the last couple, so that was kind of some implicit pressure on people: ‘Hey, we’ve got to get one for the West.’ So that was good,” Elliott said.
Despite playing poorly in the first half, the West actually led 7-0 at halftime thanks to a bend-but-don’t-break defense and Josiah Miller’s 80-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. But with more time to throw, Nelson was able to get the offense in rhythm after the half.
On the West’s second possession of the second half, Nelson beat the East with his arm and legs, running for 32 yards and going 3-for-3 for 39 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to former Skyline receiver Taggart Krueger, to give the West a 14-0 lead and put together the first legitimate drive of the game.
“You can’t keep that kid down for a whole game,” Gasca said. “He’s a great player and he’s always going to find those spots to score.”
Gasca overcame a little adversity himself. The former Vikings wideout and returner fumbled the first punt return of the second half but didn’t allow it to get him down.
“I didn’t hang my head at all,” Gasca said of his response to the fumble. “I was kind of angry at myself afterwards but everyone on the sideline was like, ‘Hey, redeem yourself, you know you’re going to get another one.’ And then it just happened.”
After looking for Gasca nearly all game, Nelson finally got the time and hooked up with the wide receiver deep down the left sideline for a 41-yard touchdown pass and catch on the first play of the fourth quarter. Not that it was a perfect throw.
“I don’t want to bag on Jake but he left it just a little bit short,” Gasca joked, “so I had to stop and fortunately for me the corner wasn’t looking at the ball so I had a chance to come back and get it.”
Gasca out-jumped the East defender, who tripped and fell, and scampered into the end zone to make it 21-0 West.
Part of the success of the play was the familiarity the former (and future) teammates have. “We kind of gave each other one of these looks,” said Nelson, nodding in feigned agreement. “It just worked out.”
After Nelson’s second-half heroics, the game seemed to be over after the West opened up a 28-0 lead on Caleb Saulo’s 1-yard touchdown run with 8:56 left in the game. But a strange rule called the “Hula Bowl Rule” — which states that the losing team, if trailing by nine points or more, receives every kickoff in the fourth quarter — made things interesting late.
Led by backup quarterback and former Central Valley standout Gaven Deyarmin, who also kicked for the East team, the East scored three unanswered touchdowns to make it 28-21 with 56 seconds remaining in the game. Deyarmin was 8-for-15 for 130 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, with four of those passes going to former Ferris star Cole Lemer for 97 yards.
“Deyarmin is just a winner,” Kizer said. “He makes things happen and runs around. He kept us in the game for most of the time.”
The East team, which had a total of six possessions in the fourth quarter, couldn’t recover the onside kick after its third touchdown in the final quarter and the West team was able to run out the clock to end the game and preserve the victory.
Skyview quarterback Kieran McDonough was supposed to be the East quarterback — which would have really set up an intriguing matchup with Nelson — but he had to pull out of the game because of a college trip. Instead the East was led by Justin Hordyk and Deyarmin. Though Hordyk never did get untracked, Deyarmin, who finished 18-for-29 for 224 yards and two touchdowns, was able to lead the East offense into West territory a number of times late in the second and fourth quarters.
Defensively the East was led by Chiawana’s Jordan Downing, who had an interception and fumble recovery in the first half.