ARLINGTON — Defensive battle, offensive eye sore — call it what you will — but Oak Harbor grinded through three overtimes, driving rain and a tenacious Arlington defense to clinch a coveted Wesco 3A North playoff berth.
One week removed from finding themselves on the wrong end of an overtime game, the Wildcats, in coach Jay Turner’s words, “kept pounding, and pounding and pounding away” until Taeson Hardin took a handoff off tackle for a 3-yard touchdown to give No. 9 Oak Harbor a 13-7 walk-off, triple overtime win during a wet Friday night matchup at Arlington High School.
“This is my 22nd year (coaching), and I have never been a part of a game like this,” Turner said. “Both teams played their guts out and laid it all out there. Fighting adversity, weather was bad — we just kept pounding and pounding.”
In a matchup featuring two of the more prolific offenses in the Wesco 3A North, there was little firepower on display thanks in large part to wet and windy conditions and plenty of stingy defense.
Oak Harbor quarterback Jordan Bell and Arlington quarterback Anthony Whitis combined for seven interceptions, and the Wildcats’ high-powered Wing-T rushing attack was limited to 162 yards on 49 carries.
“The weather was a factor for both teams,” Turner said. “Arlington tackled really well. We just had a hard time breaking anything. We haven’t seen a team tackle that well all year. That presented problems for us.”
Arlington defensive back Campbell Hudson recorded three interceptions, and the Eagles defensive line was stout all game. Oak Harbor leading rusher Mackenzie Nuanez finished with 93 yards on 25 carries.
The Eagles offense moved the ball at times, but could never find a rhythm. Four times in regulation Arlington (5-3 overall, 3-2 Wesco 3A North) drove the ball deep into Oak Harbor (7-1, 4-1) territory but only scored once.
“I thought our D played really well,” Turner said. “Our defensive coordinator, Jim Coleman, called a great game. Guys were flying around all over the place making plays.”
Turner and the Wildcats had to dig deep into their playbook to finally open the scoring late in the first half.
Bell looked to his left and completed a lateral out wide to receiver Kyle Nickols for what looked to be a wide receiver screen, but Nickols pulled up and lofted a pass into the back of the end zone, connecting with a wide open Tamarik Hollins-Passmore for a 16-yard score that put Oak Harbor in front 7-0 with 1:30 to play until halftime.
The Eagles had multiple golden opportunities to score in the first half in large part to the secondary work of Hudson.
The senior defensive back picked off two Bell passes, gifting Arlington outstanding field possession. Once Campbell set the Eagles up at Oak Harbor’s 14-yard line, and his second pick was returned to the Wildcats’ 24. The first possession ended in a turnover on downs after Arlington failed to convert a fourth-and-3 on Oak Harbor’s 7. The second possession resulted in an interception after the Eagles moved the ball down the Wildcats’ 10.
A long Arlington second-half opening drive stalled, but the Eagles finally cashed in on their next drive with wide receiver Cooper Cummings doing much of the work.
From Arlington’s own 13-yard line, Whitis connected with Cummings for a 32-yard pass that moved the ball to the Eagles’ 45. Cummings delivered again on the following play, this time hauling in a 30-yard diving reception that moved the ball to Oak Harbor’s 25. Three plays later sophomore back Brayden Whetstone, who finished with 83 yards on 20 carries, took a handoff up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 with 3:56 to play in the third.
Oak Harbor had a great chance to win the game late in regulation after Arlington’s punter couldn’t get a kick off deep in his own territory and the Wildcats took over on the Eagles’ 23 with 1:53 to go. The Wildcats moved the ball to Arlington’s 7, but Bell took a big sack before throwing an interception on the final play of the fourth quarter.
Neither Oak Harbor nor Arlington moved the ball much in the first two overtime periods. The Wildcats’ defense stuffed Arlington in the third OT, setting up Oak Harbor with 10 yards to win the game.
“As soon as we got the stop in the third overtime, our kids were pretty fired up,” Turner said. “We were like, ‘We got to get it this time. We got 10 yards, four plays,’ and we got after it.”
Nuanez took the first carry 2 yards, the second carry 5 yards down to Arlington’s 3 and Hardin scored the game-winner the following play.