Oak Harbor running back Mackenzie Nuanez tries to avoid the tackle of Mariner’s Tyrell Waverly during a game Sept. 1, 2017, at Goddard Stadium in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Oak Harbor running back Mackenzie Nuanez tries to avoid the tackle of Mariner’s Tyrell Waverly during a game Sept. 1, 2017, at Goddard Stadium in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Oak Harbor, Ferndale set to square off in Wing-T battle

In the age of spread offenses, the two Wesco 3A North powerhouses utilize the Wing-T rushing attack.

OAK HARBOR — Both teams feature high-powered Wing-T rushing attacks. Both teams have stingy defenses.

And both teams enter this top-10 showdown undefeated.

Plenty of similarities figure to be on display when eighth-ranked Oak Harbor hosts second-ranked Ferndale in a key Wesco 3A North clash Friday night.

The most notable parallel is that both squads operate Wing-T offenses — a rarity in this age of spread passing attacks.

“You just don’t see very many Wing-T teams anymore,” said Oak Harbor coach Jay Turner, who’s in his 10th season at the helm. “We’re kind of the outcasts now of the offense.

“But it’s fun to prep against another Wing-T team. Our guys enjoy doing it, just because we don’t see it very often.”

While both teams run the Wing-T, they operate the system in different ways.

Turner said Ferndale’s attack is designed to capitalize on its superior size, while Oak Harbor relies more on speed.

“They definitely bring the size factor into it,” Turner said. “We are not a big team. We don’t have that many big guys, so we’ve kind of gone with the speed route.”

Oak Harbor (6-0 overall, 3-0 Wesco 3A North) is averaging 340 yards rushing per game, led by a trio of seniors who have topped 400 yards apiece on the ground this season.

Mackenzie Nuanez serves as the Wildcats’ power back, leading their attack with 691 yards and nine touchdowns. Tamarik Hollins-Passmore has added 521 yards and four touchdowns, and Taeson Hardin has rushed for 407 yards and three scores despite missing nearly two full games due to injury.

Hollins-Passmore and Hardin — who is averaging 11.3 yards per carry — provide speedy complements to the bruising Nuanez.

“Their two outside backs are capable of making huge plays at any time,” said Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich, who’s in his 14th season at the helm. “So their perimeter run stuff really stresses you as a defense, because (if) they make one guy miss, they’re having a big play. And their guys are good at that.”

Ferndale’s Wing-T attack is led by senior running back Cole Semu, who has rushed for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns this season while averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

“He’s just got that great combination of good size, good speed and great instincts,” Turner said. “He really knows where the hole is going to be. And then once he hits that hole, he is tough to bring down.”

Semu runs behind a dominant line that includes seniors Mikhail Varetskiy and Spencer Crosswhite, as well as 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore Geirean Hatchett.

Those standout linemen also help anchor a Ferndale defense that’s allowing just 12.2 points per game this season while holding all six opponents to 21 points or fewer. The Golden Eagles (6-0, 3-0) have yielded just 10 points combined the past two weeks in blowout wins over Marysville Pilchuck and Stanwood.

“Defensively, they’re rock solid,” Turner said. “They stay in that 4-3 (formation) and they just come after you. Probably one of the most impressive D-line and O-line combinations that I’ve seen in a long time.”

Oak Harbor’s defense has been similarly dominant, yielding just 11.2 points per game and limiting all six opponents to 20 points or fewer.

“We don’t really have the big fellows this year,” Turner said. “(But) we do have some team speed, so we just try to swarm the football. We go on the mentality that we don’t have one guy that can dominate the game defensively, so we’ve got to get all 11 guys to the football.”

Though each team has won five of six games by double digits this season, both squads have pulled off dramatic comeback wins.

In the second week of the season, Ferndale rallied for a 19-16 non-league victory over Lynden by scoring 19 fourth-quarter points — including the game-winning touchdown with eight seconds to play.

Two weeks ago, Oak Harbor scored a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining to earn a 21-20 comeback victory over Squalicum.

Turner said hard-fought wins like that can benefit a team down the road.

“It was a really good test of our adversity, (and) I think they handled the adversity well,” Turner said. “They just kept battling and battling to the very end. Our guys will have confidence to know that we’re not out of a game — we can keep battling and make adjustments as we go.”

Ferndale won last season’s meeting 35-18 on its way to a second-place Wesco 3A North finish and a state-playoff appearance.

Turner said this year’s Ferndale team provides another major challenge.

“We jokingly are calling them the University of Ferndale, just because (they have) such good speed and good size everywhere,” Turner said. “They are a rock-solid team.

“They’re about as good of a team that I’ve seen in this Wesco conference in a long time. I don’t know if I’ve seen that combination of size and speed.”

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