Bethel beats Knights 28-21 in 4A semifinal
By AARON COE
TACOMA — A magical season for the Kamiak football team came to an end Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome.
The Knights gave Bethel all it could handle, but the Braves got the stops they needed in the fourth quarter of a 28-21 victory over Kamiak in a state playoff semifinal.
Few expected Kamiak to be one of the state’s four best teams when the season began, but the Knights surprised non-believers in a successful 11-2 season.
"No one knew we would come this far," said senior quarterback Ryan Jones, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. "We took it a long way. We didn’t want to stop here, but … "
Kamiak battled the Braves until the final horn sounded. Tears began to flow shortly after the Knights final pass floated out of bounds as it began to sink in that the season was over, and that it would be the 11-2 Braves moving on to next Saturday’s state championship game against Pasco.
"I’m so doggone proud of this team," Kamiak coach Dan Mack said. "Our theme this year was ‘Battle,’ and the kids battled to the end."
Bethel’s Jesse McMichael paced the Braves with 133 yards on 25 carries, but it was one big run by backup Mark Hitchner that may have decided the outcome.
Ahead 21-14 late in the third, on third-and-1 just shy of midfield, quarterback John DuRocher faked a handoff to 290-pound Brandon Grant, who had scored twice on 1-yard runs earlier in the game. DuRocher then held the ball behind his back, where Hitchner snatched it up and ran 51 yards untouched.
"They made some amazing plays on some small mistakes we were making," said senior lineman Dan Klumper, who sacked DuRocher on Bethel’s first drive. "It was our little mistakes that they capitalized on. We were right there."
Kamiak used a trick play of its own to get pull within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Running back Justin Washington lined up as the punter on fourth-and-2 at the Bethel 44. The Braves thought they had Washington snuffed on an apparent running play, but the junior stopped and threw to a wide open Nate Santiago for a 39-yard gain to the Braves 5.
Two plays later, Washington leveled a defender on his way to a 3-yard score to cut Bethel’s lead to 28-21 with 11:13 left in the game. The fake punt was obvious, but the pass fooled Bethel.
"That’s the beauty of it," Mack said. "The old Kamiak double fake. Justin did a nice job of getting rid of the ball."
Kamiak used another trick play on fourth-and-15 with just over three minutes left. The hook-and-ladder play — Jones passed to Boyle, who pitched the ball to a sprinting Washington — nearly worked, but Washington went out of bounds 2 yards shy of the first down marker.
The defense held Bethel to a three-and-out to give the offense a chance with 1:32 remaining, but a penalty and a sack stacked the deck against the Knights. Scott Haight caught a 12-yard pass from Jones on third down, but Jones was rushed on fourth-and-9 and his desperation heave landed harmlessly out of play.
"We hurt ourselves with penalties, which is uncharacteristic of us," said Mack, whose team was penalized seven times for 45 yards. "They did a good job of taking away some of the things that we wanted to do."
Kamiak stuffed the Braves on their first possession, but Bethel drove down the field with ease on its second drive. Though the Braves were stopped short of the goal line on fourth-and-1, 280-pound Brandon Grant managed to pick up the first down. Grant then fell into the end zone from a half-yard out to give Bethel a 7-0 lead with 3:11 remaining in the first.
Trailing 14-0 in the middle of the second quarter, Kamiak faced third-and-3 at its own 28, but Washington picked up Kamiak’s first first down of the game with a 9-yard run. On fourth-and-6, Jones passed to Mike Boyle, who evaded three Braves on his way to a 33-yard touchdown.
Derrick Bradley gave the Knights good field position with a punt return to midfield, but Kamiak faced third-and-25 after a fumbled pitch and an incomplete pass.
Boyle to the rescue again.
The senior receiver outleaped a Bethel defender to grab Jones’ deep pass, then ran untouched for a 66-yard touchdown as the Knights closed the gap to 21-14 before halftime.
Mack said it would be a mistake to count the Knights out next season.
"We’ll be back here next year," Mack said. "If next year’s senior class works hard this summer, I’m convinced we’ll be back."
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