ARLINGTON — Arlington and Oak Harbor have played some doozies the past few years. But Friday night the Eagles and Wildcats put on a display that will be remembered in the annals of Wesco 3A North football lore.
Arlington, with 1 minute 9 seconds remaining, drove the length of the field and scored both a touchdown and a two-point conversion tie it, then won it in overtime as the Eagles upset the Wildcats 48-42 in a thriller at Arlington High School.
Arlington quarterback Anthony Whitis threw six touchdown passes, five of them going to Griffin Gardoski. The fourth of those TDs was a 7-yarder into the left corner of the end zone with 27 seconds remaining in regulation to bring the Eagles within two. Then, needing the two-point conversion, Whitis lofted a ball into the same corner of the end zone, with Joey Stretch outfighting the Oak Harbor defense for the ball to tie it up and force overtime.
The Wildcats received the ball first in overtime, and on fourth-and-5 the Wildcats thought they had a first-down completion from Caleb Fitzgerald to Dorian Hardin, only for the officials to rule that Hardin didn’t have control of the ball until after he landed out of bounds.
Then it was the Whitis to Gardoski connection again to win it, Gardoski cutting in on a post route and hauling in a 22-yard TD to send the Arlington sideline into a frenzy.
With the victory Arlington (4-2 overall, 3-2 Wesco 3A North) handed Oak Harbor (5-1, 3-1), which came into the game ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press 3A state poll, its first loss of the season.
The game was a classic confrontation between passing and running teams. Arlington passed for 367 yards while Oak Harbor rushed for 384.
This result had dramatic impact on the Wesco 3A North race. Going into the night it seemed Oak Harbor was on its way to securing the league title, with a perfect record and a one-game lead over Marysville Pilchuck and Squalicum in the standings (having already beaten Marysville Pilchuck). However, this loss brings teams back into play.
Meanwhile, Arlington greatly improved its postseason chances. The Eagles have now recovered following the previous week’s unexpected loss to Marysville Getchell, and they’re right back in playoff contention.
It’s not often that the turning point comes when the other team scores. With less than two minutes remaining Oak Harbor led 35-34 and had the ball inside the Arlington 10. The Eagles tried to let the Wildcats score so they could get the ball back, but Oak Harbor intentionally went down before the goal line to try and run out the clock. However, when the Wildcats tried it again, the Arlington defense held Oak Harbor running back Aaron Martinez up and pushed him into the end zone for a touchdown. That gave the Eagles the ball back trailing by eight with 1:09 remaining, and Whitis led the Eagles on an 80-yard drive to get it to OT.
Anthony Whitis, Arlington — The Eagles quarterback was forced to sit out last week’s loss because of a possible concussion, but he returned in spectacular fashion. He finished the game 22-for-43 for 367 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. For good measure, he also ran the ball 79 yards on 17 carries and scored another TD himself. He was also a magician on fourth down, converting several chances either with clutch throws or frantic scrambles.
Griffin Gardoski, Arlington — It’s hard to imagine a high school receiver having a bigger game, as the tall target finished with 12 catches for 152 yards and five TDs, including the game winner. He also caught two two-point conversions earlier in the game, giving him seven end-zone grabs.
Joey Stretch, Arlington — He was Whitis’ other lethal receiving target, finishing with five catches for 146 yards and a score, plus the crucial 2-point conversion that tied it. He got behind the Oak Harbor secondary for a 47-yard reception in the final minute of regulation to set up the tying sequence.
Dorian Hardin, Oak Harbor — The speed option of the Wildcats’ wing-T rushing attack broke free for 176 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also had all four Wildcats receptions for another 33 yards.
Aaron Martinez, Oak Harbor — After a slow first half he was switched to fullback in the fourth quarter and was the driving force of the Wildcats’ offense as they first went ahead 35-28 and then 42-34. He finished with 74 yards on 17 carries and scored three TDs.
Caden Leckelt, Oak Harbor — The starting fullback powered the offense in the first half, finishing with 112 yards on 24 carries and one TD, though he was not in the game late in the contest.
Arlington has a break in the Wesco 3A North schedule next week as the Eagles play host to Wesco 3A South opponent Everett in a non-league game. Arlington’s postseason fate will likely be on the line the following week when the Eagles hit the road to face Marysville Pilchuck.
Oak Harbor has a trip to Marysville Getchell next week before finishing the season at home two weeks from now in what could be the decisive game of the Wesco 3A North season against Squalicum.