Mistakes cost Bremerton win, shot at playoffs

The setting was a soggy evening in Shelton on the last Friday prior to Halloween. And if you had been a partisan of the Bremerton High School football team, the available omens might have led your mind to one hopeful conclusion:

Bring on basketball season.

While the Knights had put together an exciting season replete with success unseen on the Bremerton gridiron in many years, they needed to beat the Highclimbers to force a three-way playoff for the No. 3 position in the Narrows League Bridge Division. A loss would extinguish the Knights’ flickering chances for a state playoff berth. The ominous signs bore out in painful fashion for Bremerton, which sunk into the Shelton quagmire en route to a 21-19 defeat Friday, Oct. 26.

Basketball anyone?

Maybe it was the lanky youngster cradling a basketball as he loomed on the track behind the Knights’ sideline. That youth was Bremerton sophomore Marvin Williams Jr., 6-feet-7-inches tall and clad in a Seahawks jersey with a matching baseball cap cocked rakishly on his head.

Maybe it was the Bremerton sideline, which looked like a thick chocolate pudding but struck the nose with the aroma of a backed-up sewer.

The field was a virtual bog between the 35-yard lines.

As players stumbled and clashed, showers of mud flew from terra-not-so-firma and met a steadily falling rain halfway.

And it became apparent early that Bremerton’s bid for a seat at the postseason banquet would be fraught with peril. On the opening play from scrimmage, Shelton’s Brandon Dahl turned an apparent backfield snafu into a 70-yard touchdown romp that gave the Highclimbers a 6-0 lead.

An errant connection between center and quarterback — the first of six such mishaps that would hinder the Knights’ offense — sabotaged Bremerton’s opening drive. As the Knights lined up to punt, the tackle on the right side of center was missing, and the Highclimbers broke through the gap in the line to block the punt. Lance Farmer scooped up ball at the 18 and sauntered into the end zone. Shelton led 14-0.

Only 2:02 had been played.

It was the second consecutive series in which a blocked punt had damaged the Knights’ playoff hopes. A similar fate befell them in the final minute of the previous game against Gig Harbor and led to a field goal and a 24-21 loss that put Bremerton in the precarious position it faced against Shelton.

Everywhere you looked, the evidence did not augur well for Bremerton.

Flashy senior Reggie Williams was on the sideline with an injury for a second straight game, playing ball boy instead of simply playing ball. Then junior Justin Robinette, a two-way standout, left the game for good early in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

The Knights, however, refused to wilt. They pulled within 14-7 on a 6-yard scoring pass from Bollinger to Noah Garguile, but disaster still loomed just a snap away. When the center hike eluded Bollinger for a fifth time, none other than Marvin Williams — who will be the senior quarterback’s teammate once basketball season commences — bellowed, “hold on to the football!”

An interception late in the half gave Shelton the ball at the Bremerton 6-yard line, and an ensuing touchdown made the score 21-7 at the break.

Bremerton responded with a lightning strike, scoring two touchdowns in the first 2:09 of the third quarter.

A 52-yard pass-and-run connection between Bollinger and Aubrey Neal set up a 3-yard TD run by Anthony Ragsdale, but the extra point attempt failed. Buddy King then recovered a fumble at the Shelton 20, and Bollinger found B.J. Ray on the next play for a scoring pass that closed the gap to 21-19. Bollinger was stopped just shy of the goal line in a bid for the tying 2-point conversion.

That’s the way it ended, though there was plenty more slipping, stumbling and fumbling to amuse connoisseurs of slapstick. The teams combined for a remarkable 13 fumbles.

Later in the third quarter, the Knights appeared to seize the lead when Kellen Alley snared a long pass from Bollinger and sprinted to the end zone for a 61-yard score. Officials, however, flagged Alley for offensive pass interference, nullifying the score.

“If it was pass interference on me, then it was pass interference on him, because he was hanging on me,” Alley said.

While Shelton players celebrated with belly slides across the muddy turf, the Knights were left to contemplate their disappointment.

“We ran out of time, I think,” Bollinger said. “These are hard games to lose, real hard, but they’re definitely games we’ll all remember. I never doubted our team’s effort. We never give up. It’s too bad there’s a clock, because we’d battle all night.”

The Knights (4-4 overall, 4-3 Narrows) were left with one last game, a Narrows League crossover against Lincoln (5-3, 4-3) of the Bay Division Friday, Nov. 2. A victory would give them the school’s first winning season since 1993. When they look back on narrow losses to South Kitsap, Gig Harbor and Shelton, the Knights will be forced to wonder how much better they might’ve been.

“Too many mistakes,” Alley said with a shake of his head. “We shoot ourselves in the foot too many times.

“Missed extra points, fumbles, interceptions — it’s the same thing every week. I thought we were better than them in every position except for luck.”

And while he was proud of the turnaround the Knights had achieved on the gridiron, the 6-3 senior looked forward into a winter on the hardwoods.

“It comes to basketball, I guess,” Alley said. “Now it’s just stay healthy for tryouts.”

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