Too many missed opportunities proved costly as Montesano fell tothe Eatonville 35-18 on Friday at Jack Rottle Field in Montesano.
In the first 1A Evergreen League matchup between the two teams, two failed fourth-and-short conversion attempts deep in Eatonville territory changed the complexion of the game for the Bulldogs.
Monte (3-2 overall, 0-1 1A Evergreen) started the game by taking the opening drive 75 yards on 11 plays, scoring on quarterback Jayden McElravy’s 1-yard sneak. After a missed point-after attempt, Monte held an early 6-0 lead at the 7:33 mark.
After second-ranked Eatonville (6-0, 2-0) charged down field and scored on a 9-yard TD run from Blain Hanly to take a 7-6 lead with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs threatened to score on the ensuing possession, driving to the Cruisers 5-yard line. But on fourth-and-1, Monte running back Isaiah Pierce was stuffed at the line of scrimmage as Monte turned the ball over on downs.
Eatonville’s fast-paced, high-octane offense went right back to work, quickly moving the ball to midfield on a 50 yard pass from quarterback Kevin Wulff to receiver Alex Hoefs. Four plays later, Wulff broke through the middle of the Montesano defense for a 26-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
Monte responded by once again driving downfield and found itself in an identical fourth-and-1 from the 5-yard line.
And again, a Pierce run was thwarted by the Cruisers defense, creating Montesano’s second turnover on downs in the Eatonville red zone in as many possessions.
“We could have been up at halftime if we convert both of those,” Monte head coach Terry Jensen said. “But at the same time, you tip your hat to them.”
Monte’s defense responded by forcing a three-and-out from Eatonville and Monte took over looking for a tying score.
The Bulldogs drove to just across midfield, but the drive stalled at the Eatonville 44. On fourth down, Monte lined up to punt but ran a fake, which fell short of the first-down marker, giving the Bulldogs the dubious stat of three straight failed fourth-down conversions on three consecutive drives.
In the second half, the Cruisers offense turned on the afterburners.
Moving at a feverish pace, often taking less than 10 seconds from play to play, Eatonville scored on a touchdown plunge from Jake Wood to go up 21-6 at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Monte returner Konnor Odekirk put a charge in the stadium with an 83-yard return for what would have been a touchdown. But in what would become a recurring theme throughout the second half, a positive Monte play was nullified due to a penalty, this time on an illegal block in the back that put the ball back at the Eatonville 43-yard line.
Later in the drive, Monte benefited from two Eatonville penalties on the same play, that took the ball down to the Cruisers 8-yard line.
Pierce then burst through the middle for an 8-yard score to cut the deficit to 21-12 with 5:45 left in the third.
Eatonville responded with another long drive in a short amount of time, scoring on a Wulff 6-yard run to go up 28-12 with 1:36 to go in the third.
With Monte’s offense on the move early in the third quarter thanks in large part to McElravy completing four passes in the drive — three to receiver Caydon Lovell — Eatonville defensive back Job Kralik stepped in front of a McElravy pass and took off for a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown for a 35-12 lead.
Monte would score again on a 3-yard run by McElravy with 5:06 to go and would recover the subsequent onside kick. But McElravy’s second interception of the half ended the Bulldogs’ last real threat of the game as Monte fell 35-18.
“They’ve got so much depth, they can run a lot of bodies out there and wear you down. You don’t normally see that in 1A,” Jensen said. “But at the same time, we had a couple opportunities in the first half. We couldn’t convert on fourth down and they controlled the line of scrimmage on two huge plays for us. We’ve got to find some answers right now.”
McElravy was an efficient 24-for-31 passing for 258 yards and the two picks.
Most of those targets went to Lovell, who caught 13 passes for 118 yards.
“I thought Jayden played really well. I think he really stood out tonight,” Jensen said of his junior quarterback. “Caydon did too on offense. They have a good connection. I think Caydon is a big threat. … If you play him tight, he’s got the speed to run by you.”
Montesano rushed for 163 yards, with Pierce leading the way with 82 yards on 22 carries and McElravy gaining 64 yards on 17 rushing attempts.
The Bulldogs had nine penalties for 90 yards, while Eatonville had six penalties for 85 yards.
The Cruisers were led by Wulff, who went 9-of-13 for 189 yards and an interception by Monte’s Kaleb Ames in the second half.
“We’re close. We know we’re close,” Jensen said of Monte, which narrowly lost to the 2B class’ No. 2 team in Napavine last week. “The game tonight was closer than what it shows on the scoreboard. We’ve got to find a way to fix some things and that’s our jobs as coaches. We haven’t done a good enough job as coaches the last two weeks and we have to do better.”