EVERETT — The Oak Harbor High School football team faces a Herculean task this season in replacing graduated running back Princeton Lollar. The bruising 240-pound Lollar broke every school rushing record, leaving the Wildcats searching for someone to fill the fullback role in their Wing-T formation.
Well, if Mackenzie Nuanez’s audition is any indication, Oak Harbor will be just fine.
Nuanez rushed for 172 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Wildcats routed the Mariner Marauders 34-12 Friday evening at Goddard Stadium in the non-league season opener for both teams.
Nuanez, a senior, is lighter and lankier than his predecessor at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. However. Nuanez was every bit as effective in his 25 carries Friday as he powered through the defense of a Mariner team that was a 4A state playoff qualifier a year ago.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Nuanez said about following in Lollar’s footsteps. “I’ve know Princeton since we were little, I’ve always looked up to him when it came to running. I try to play his style and hopefully I’ll be able to fill the shoes that he left here and the legacy that he left.”
Nuanez was the spearhead of a devastating Oak Harbor rushing attack that gobbled up 372 yards on 62 carries. Tamarik Hollins-Passmore added 112 yards on 17 carries, and 10 different players carried the ball for the Wildcats — including six during a 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that defined Oak Harbor’s dominance on the ground.
“We feel we’ve got a few running backs,” Oak Harbor coach Jay Turner said. “We rotate them in left and right, we do a lot of stuff to try and keep them fresh. It’s nice to have the luxury of having that many kids who can carry the ball.
“(Nuanez) had a good game,” Turner added. “I thought the O-line was punching some holes. We’re not a big team, so we have to rely on our quickness, and I thought our guys up front held their own against a good physical Mariner front.”
Oak Harbor also received a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Jordan Bell, who finished 7-for-13 for 62 yards.
Mariner was led by running back Romelo Mangum, who gained 50 yards on 15 carries and scored both Marauder TDs. Mariner quarterback Fama Toure finished 5-for-12 for 71 yards.
Oak Harbor took control right from the opening kickoff, which Taeson Hardin returned 54 yards to stake the Wildcats to premium field position. Less than two minutes later Nuanez scored the first of his TDs on a 1-yard dive to give Oak Harbor a quick 7-0 lead. Then on their second possession the Wildcats were methodical, traveling 97 yards and eating up nearly 7 minutes of clock as Nuanez scored from 12 yards out to make it 14-0.
Mariner briefly gave itself a glimmer of hope early in the second quarter as Tyrell Waverly’s interception set the Marauders up on a short field, and Mangum stretched the ball over the goal line from 1 yard out to cut the deficit to 14-6.
But the Wildcats went right back to work. First, Bell hit Kyle Nickols on a slant pass that split the defense, allowing Nickols to scamper 28 yards for a touchdown. Then it was Nuanez’s turn again as he burst up the middle, bounced off tacklers and rumbled into the end zone for a 44-yard TD run, and Oak Harbor headed to halftime leading 28-6.
Oak Harbor found the end zone again midway through the third quarter on Bell’s 5-yard TD pass to Andrew Miller that made it 34-6, and the Wildcats coasted home from there.
“I thought we were pretty solid the first thee quarters,” Turner said. “I thought we weren’t real sharp for the fourth quarter, we have some things we need to work on. The first game is always chaos because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you show up. So I was really happy with the way we came out of the chutes, I thought we played really well early on. I’d just like to see us play a full four quarters.”