Saints Keep Marching Along

Last spring I sat in a dark, seven-eighths empty Roxy Theater on a Saturday morning wondering why I had risen so early for a news conference for the newly renamed West Sound Saints and why was I the only member of the press to make it.

After all, I had covered the Orcas for the previous two seasons, watching them obtain mediocre finishes of 6-4 in 2003 and 5-4-1 in 2002. Nothing to really shout about and nothing that should have dragged me from my bed on a weekend morning.

But there I was to at least listen to what the owners Mike Crowley and Matt Gates had to say and find out what some of the old Orcas thought of the name change.

Then about halfway through the program Crowley introduced Kenny Austin as the team’s director of football operations and my interest switched directions.

Austin is probably the second-most polarizing figure in the Northwest Football League behind Eastside Hawks owner Sam Adams. The players under him revere his ability to make a team win. After all, he was the coach of the Jets when they won the 2002 AFA National Championship. Opposing coaches, players and officials, at best, despise Austin for his arrogance on the sidelines.

But Austin’s presence alone seemed to make the mediocre Orcas into a team with a brighter future as the Saints. He brought in his loyal following of players who would travel across the state for weekly games and practices. At the news conference, the newcomers sat off to one side by themselves, leaving long-time players like Dave Snyder and Gabe Llamas sitting in the center.

Could these two teams become one? Could this team really reach the playoffs for the first time in six seasons? Those were the questions that rolled through my mind as I left the theater for home.

But over the past six months those questions were answered with a resounding “Yes!”

The team got off to a 4-0 start before taking on the two toughest teams in the league — the Hawks and the Bucs. The Hawks shut down the Saints 30-0 on July 10. The Bucs won 12-9 the following weekend.

Then the Saints ran the table, finishing the regular season 5-0 and reaching the playoffs last Saturday against their old rivals the King County Jaguars.

In front of the biggest crowd to watch a West Sound game in years, the Saints’ Darnell Curry snagged four interceptions as the home team came up on top 16-10.

It wasn’t a dominating win like the team had in its 64-0 trouncing of the Washington Cavaliers, but it was enough to get them into the Northwest Football League championship game against the Hawks (who put on an offensive clinic 64-0 against the undermanned Willamette Valley Raiders) at 6 p.m. today at Kirkland’s Rebel Stadium.

After watching the Saints last weekend, I believe they achieved all of their goals this season. They are 10-2, they reached the playoffs and they boosted the fan base.

A win tonight is just icing on the cake.

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