Pe Ell-Willapa Valley’s season came to an end after being on the wrong side of a 42-14 loss to Okanogan in a 2B State Football semifinal game on Saturday at the Apple Bowl in Wenatchee.
PWV (9-4 overall) was unable to contain Okanogan’s high-scoring offense enough early on as the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions.
Second-seeded Okanogan (12-0) held the Titans to a three-and-out to open the game then took a 7-0 lead when sophomore quarterback Carter Kuchenbuch hit senior wide receiver Carson Boesel on a 22-yard touchdown pass at 8:31 of the first quarter.
After PWV was forced to punt on the ensuing possession, the Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead when senior running back Johnny Swartsel scored on a 9-yard run at the 3:23 mark of the opening frame.
Not seeing much success in its interior running game during its first two drives, the Titans opened the playbook in hopes of getting on the scoreboard and back into the game.
PWV embarked on a 15-play drive that included a third-down conversion screen pass by junior quarterback Kolten Fluke to senior receiver Derek Fluke, and a third-down pitch-and-catch from Kolten Fluke to senior receiver Wil Clements on a crossing route for 24 yards.
PWV eventually worked the ball inside the Okanogan red zone and had a first-and-goal at the Bulldogs 9-yard line.
The No. 3-seed Titans moved the ball to the 1-yard line on third-and-goal on a run by junior running back Cody Strozyk and went for it on fourth down, but Strozyk’s run to the right side was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over on downs.
On the next drive, PWV’s defense held Okanogan on third down for the the first time in the game, but the Bulldogs gambled on fourth-and-2 from the 10-yard line, converting on a Kuchenbuch sneak.
Okanogan proceeded to penetrate into the Titans half of the field, scoring when Kuchenbuch hit tight end Austin Morgan for an 18-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
The two teams would trade possessions, with PWV’s Blake Howard intercepting a Kuchenbuch pass inside the Titans’ 10-yard line just before halftime to keep the score at 21-0 leading into the break.
The Bulldogs made it a 28-0 game when Kuchenbuch tossed a 23-yard TD pass to Boesel with just under seven minutes left in the third and took a commanding 35-0 lead when Swartsel broke free on a 24-yard scoring run with 1:55 left in the frame.
PWV broke through when — after recovering a fumble off a bad Bulldogs handoff deep inside Okanogan territory — quarterback Kolten Fluke plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown run at the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs responded with a Taggert Grooms 22-yard scoring run on its next possession for a 42-7 lead.
PWV faced a third-and-long from its own 12 on the following possession, but a 68-yard pass play from Kolten Fluke to Derek Fluke — the Titans’ longest play from scrimmage in the contest — put PWV into the Bulldogs’ red zone.
A few plays later, Kolten Fluke rolled out to his right and threw a strike to sophomore split end Kannyon Clements for a 5-yard TD scoring play.
Senior kicker Garrett Keeton’s second PAT of the game rounded out the score at 42-14 with 6:03 left in the game.
Kuchenbuch led Okanogan with 267 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-27 passing.
His favorite receiver was Boesel, who caught eight passes for 156 yards and a pair of scores for a Bulldogs team that tallied 495 total yards.
Kolten Fluke led PWV with 110 yards on 8-of-19 passing as the Titans were held to just 59 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
Derek Fluke caught three passes for 86 yards to lead PWV’s receiving corps.
The Titans defense was led by Kolten Fluke, who had a team-best 18 tackles from his line-backing position.
PWV’s Strozyk (11 tackles), Howard (11 tackles) and Derek Fluke (10 tackles) also had double-digit tackles for a team that did a respectable job against a stout Okanogan rushing attack.
The Titans forced the Bulldogs into multiple third downs, but failed to turn back Okanogan drives on four of the Bulldogs’ six third-down conversion attempts in the first half.
Okanogan was also successful on two fourth-down conversions in the game.
“It was a good year, overall,” said PWV assistant coach John Peterson, who added the Bulldogs’ size and depth (61 players on its active roster) proved to be tough to overcome. “We’re so very proud of our kids. We bit (Okanogan) on the ankles. They knew they were in a football game.”
Peterson went on to speak highly of a senior class that led the Titans to their first state-semifinal berth since 2015.
“Our seniors are to be commended for the job they did,” he said. “They are great people, pretty good players and we’re honored to have worked with them.”