ARLINGTON — In recent years, the Arlington High School football team often leaned on a high-powered, hurry-up offense to win games.
But with the Eagles breaking in a youth-laden offense and returning plenty of defensive talent, the roles were reversed Friday night.
Cole Cramer and Cade Younger each returned an interception for a touchdown to lead Arlington to a 33-7 win over defending Wesco 3A North champion Squalicum in the league opener for both teams at John C. Larson Stadium.
“This year, we’re playing with a little bit different mentality,” Younger said of his team’s defense. “Last year, we pretty much played not to let them score. This year, we’re playing to wreak havoc on the offense. … We have a lot of athletes making plays when we need them most.”
Cramer came up with a 34-yard pick-six in the second quarter and Younger returned an interception for a momentum-swinging 95-yard score late in the third, giving the Eagles a commanding 26-7 lead. Andrew Brotherton also intercepted a pass for Arlington (2-0 overall, 1-0 Wesco 3A North), which avenged last year’s 42-21 loss to the Storm.
“We talked this week about how they were Wesco (3A North) champs, and that’s what we want to be,” Eagles coach Greg Dailer said. “And so it started with them. … It’s big for us, because it was a tough loss to swallow last year. So we’re excited that both our defense was able to step up and we were able to get a win.”
DEFENSE LEADS THE WAY
In its first two games last season, Arlington allowed a combined 65 points against Mariner and Squalicum. Against those same teams this year, the Eagles yielded just 14 total points in their first two games.
“They’ve come a long way,” Dailer said of his defense. “We have a bunch of returners, and that’s huge. We knew coming in that we were going to be pretty tough on that side of the ball. It’s good to see it come to fruition.”
Arlington’s defense was on the field for a whopping 81 plays, but surrendered a relatively low 392 total yards — an average of less than five yards per play. The Eagles’ defensive performance made up for a young Arlington offense that showed promise, but threw three first-half interceptions and totaled just 231 yards on 30 plays.
“Our defensive coaches put together a great game plan,” Dailer said. “We knew (Squalicum was) going to try to run power. They ran it pretty effectively, but we were bend-not-break tonight. And when they tried to throw it, our (defensive backs) played great.”
Sophomore quarterback Trent Nobach completed 5 of 6 passes on Arlington’s second drive, including a 13-yard touchdown on a slant route to Gage Price to give the Eagles a 6-0 first-quarter lead.
That remained the score until midway through the second quarter, when Squalicum’s quarterback rolled left and tossed the ball toward the sideline. Cramer fended off a Storm receiver and leaped into the air to intercept the pass, then raced 34 yards down the sideline to stretch Arlington’s advantage to 12-0.
“He’s our defensive coordinator’s nephew, so he just knows football through and through,” Dailer said. “… (He) made a great play. He’s just a great athlete.”
Squalicum (1-1, 0-1) answered on a well-designed play with 7 seconds remaining in the half. As quarterback Mason Binning rolled right, Cesar Vasquez snuck out of the backfield to the left and hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 12-7.
Sophomore running back Jacob Kramer opened the second half with a 54-yard kickoff return to give Arlington excellent field position, then raced around the left side a few plays later for a 13-yard touchdown run to stretch the margin to 19-7.
On the ensuing possession, Squalicum drove to the Arlington 10-yard line and was on the verge of making it a one-score game. But Younger snatched an interception near the sideline and raced downfield for a 95-yard touchdown, pushing the Eagles’ lead to 19 points.
“It was a crucial turning point,” Cramer said. “That was the dagger.”
Kramer broke free for a 49-yard gain in the fourth quarter and added a 7-yard touchdown run on the next play. The speedy back finished with 79 yards and two scores on just seven carries.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1979
Arlington celebrated the 40th anniversary of its 1979 state championship by honoring members of that team on the field at halftime.
The 1979 Eagles claimed the program’s first of two state crowns with a 49-14 rout of Mark Morris in the Class 3A title game. Arlington won the 3A state title again in 1982.
Arlington travels to face Stanwood next Friday night in the annual Stilly Cup. The Eagles have beaten their archrival nine straight times, including a 21-13 win last season. The Spartans have come close to ending Arlington’s Stilly Cup reign in recent years, losing the last three matchups by just 11 points combined. Stanwood lost 37-14 to Marysville Getchell in Friday’s league opener.
Squalicum hosts Marysville Pilchuck next Friday night at Bellingham’s Civic Stadium. The Tomahawks won last year’s meeting 20-14, handing the Storm their only Wesco 3A North loss of the season. Marysville Pilchuck routed Oak Harbor 42-0 in Friday’s league opener.