His voice cracked with emotion.
For Bremerton coach Nate Gilliam, it was a struggle to speak about his final game coaching this group of seniors after Friday’s 45-21 loss at Silverdale Stadium in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
Bremerton, which finished with a 9-2 record and won the Olympic League, had not qualified for state since 1993.
“This team,” the eight-year coach said as he fought back tears, “finally feels like it’s my team.”
Despite being outgained 374-182 during the first half, the Knights thwarted the Wildcats’ early attempts to turn the game into a rout. After Jeff Scavotto and Alex Galgano scored on 5- and 79-yard runs, respectively, ATM was poised to take a three-touchdown lead early in the second quarter. But Taylor Gipson’s fumble in the end zone, which resulted in a touchback, seemed to give Bremerton a new opportunity.
The Knights needed just four plays to capitalize on the opportunity as quarterback Michael Lawrence found wide receiver Shaquille Jones in the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown pass.
The Wildcats (8-2), who play Tumwater, quickly responded as quarterback Camden Buchanan capped a six-play drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Byrne.
That is when Bremerton built its longest drive of the game. Its 11-play series was interrupted when ATM defensive lineman Foster Wade was knocked out of the game – he left on a stretcher, which resulted in a 20-minute delay. But the Knights quickly responded as quarterback Michael Lawrence finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ty Haley before he scored on a 5-yard run. That cut Bremerton’s deficit to 19-14 with 1:26 left in the half.
It proved to be too much time, though.
The Wildcats used a 32-yard run by Parker Buchanan to move into Knights’ territory before they later scored when Camden Buchanan found Byrne on a 42-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining.
“I think the kids were trying too hard,” Gillam said. “I know that sounds silly, but I told them at halftime, ‘We’re not asking you to do more than you normally do; we’re just asking you to do what you do.’ ”
Lawrence said his teammates tried to no avail.
“We couldn’t get a stop,” he said.
That entertaining back-and-forth momentum carried into the third quarter when Bremerton reduced its deficit to 25-21 on a 7-yard run by Matt Noll on the opening drive of the half.
But led by Galgano, who scored ATM’s final three touchdowns, the Wildcats ended the Knights’ hopes of advancing to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1990 and just the third time in program history. Galgano finished with 288 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries to help ATM remain in contention for its first state title in the 2A classification. The school won 1A championships in 2002-03.
“They’re big, they’re strong and they’re very disciplined,” Lawrence said. “They had great play action.”
Meanwhile, Bremerton played without standout running back Andrew Shadle because of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in its win last week against Renton. It was his final game, but Lawrence said he hopes it is the start of a legacy for Shadle and the rest of the seniors.
“Hopefully the next class behind us carries it on,” he said. “We took the first step as a class.”