Listen up: KeiVarae Russell and the Mariner Marauders are true contenders.
On paper, the Mariner High School football team appeared to be the underdog going into its clash against previously unbeaten Edmonds-Woodway on Sepp. 24. But after committing costly mistakes in the first half, Mariner got in a groove and made a huge statement in a breakthrough victory.
Spearheaded by Russell — an insanely fast junior running back/defensive back — Mariner outscored Edmonds-Woodway 21-zip in the second half and prevailed 35-21 in a Wesco South 4A battle. In the first league game of the season for both teams, Mariner (3-1 overall) played strong defense after halftime and rode the efforts of Russell, who rushed for 285 yards, scored two touchdowns on the ground and even threw a TD pass.
“Everybody contributed,” Mariner coach John Ondriezek said, “but KeiVarae played his heart out. That was a very good (Edmonds-Woodway) football team and I think KeiVarae wanted to prove to himself that he could go out against a good football team and have a good night.”
Russell’s night wasn’t merely good; it was borderline unbelievable.
After tossing a halfback pass to Jordan Garneau that went for a 60-yard score on Mariner’s first offensive snap of the game, Russell played hard-nosed defense, rushed 31 times for nearly 300 yards and — in perfectly appropriate fashion — ended E-W’s final drive of the game by snaring an interception with 2 seconds to go.
“Obviously that kid (Russell) is a hell of a running back,” E-W coach John Gradwohl said, “and they’re a good football team. They took it to us — plain and simple.”
Running back Zack Berg had another big outing for E-W, rushing for 170 yards and one TD and making three receptions for 39 yards. Quarterback Tyler Brudevold (16-for-26, 200 yards, two TDs) was impressive at times but did most of his damage in the first half for the Warriors (3-1).
Picked by coaches in the preseason to win the Wesco South, E-W is 0-1 in league — a big deal in a realigned division that has just five teams and four league contests per team.
“We’re in trouble,” Gradwohl said. “We’ve got three league games (to go). We’ve got to win them or we’ll be home in November.”
Mariner QB Alex Coffman scored on two 1-yard dives for the Marauders. His drive-capping plunges, combined with Russell’s 34- and 1-yard TD runs, were part of Mariner’s 28 consecutive points that changed the game, starting late in the second quarter.
Momentum, Gradwohl said, was a huge factor. On its first possession of the third quarter E-W was whistled for a 15-yard offensive pass interference play. Then massive defensive lineman Martin Martinez sacked Brudevold for an 8-yard loss that pinned the Warriors at their own 8-yard line. E-W punted.
On the next play Russell zoomed 34 yards up the middle, looking like a world-class sprinter on his way to the end zone. Although Mariner lost two fumbles later in the half, it was mostly in control the rest of the way.
“We’re ready for the Wesco South,” said Russell. “We’re ready for anybody that comes up. We know we have the capability to win any game.”
In the first half, E-W turned two Mariner turnovers into 14 points and took a 21-14 lead into intermission. The Warriors used an effective mix of passing (124 yards) and rushing (123 yards).
Tight end Robbie Willcock caught scoring passes of 18 yards and 7 yards in the half from Brudevold, who was 8-for-9 passing through two quarters and completed his first eight throws. Berg carried the load on the ground, gaining 85 yards, including a powerful 6-yard TD blast.
But Mariner’s defense, featuring Coffman at safety and Russell at cornerback (covering 6-5 receiver Josh Jordan), regrouped and asserted itself after halftime.
“Our coaching staff made a slight adjustment in the second half,” Ondriezek said, “but really all the credit goes to our kids and our coaches. We had a great gameplan and we worked hard all week and the kids executed.”
Mike Cane writes for the Herald in Everett.