Injuries, turnovers endanger Hornets’ playoff hopes
OROVILLE – Oroville’s hopes for a state playoff berth took a major hit Friday as the Hornets dropped a hard-hitting 22-20 homecoming night contest to White Swan.
A win would have lifted the Hornets into a first-place tie; now, they will need just the right combination of wins and losses by other Central Washington League contenders to make the playoffs at all.
A series of key injuries – Jake Scott and Charles Arrigoni didn’t play at all, while center/nose tackle Boone McKinney and running back/kicker/defensive back Dustin Nigg were injured during the game – proved to be the difference as White Swan shelved its spread offense and passing attack at halftime to take advantage of a big size advantage on the line and negate the Hornets’ speed.
The result was a 1940s-style double-wing wedge offense – basically a rugby scrum – that fed a steady diet of 400-lb fullback Tony Picard and 230-pound running back Brian Walker at the Hornets’ depleted defense.
“They’d been scoring 35-40 points in the first half all year with their double-spread and we handled it pretty well,” said Oroville coach Tam Hutchinson, whose team led 7-6 at the half. “The kids were ready for it.
“The injuries really hurt us and they saw that. They had big kids even without the 400-pounder. Their 225-pounder (Brian Walker) was even harder to bring down because he was a true runner, and they had some big boys up front.”
The injuries also forced the Hornets into some tough decisions, most glaringly the choice not to punt on 4th-and-1 from their own 16-yard line with the score tied at 14-14 early in the fourth quarter. McKinney also served as the team’s long-snapper, and with him out of the game the Hornets had already had a punt blocked. Nigg recovered that blocked punt and had run for a first down, but one play later he was out of the game with a concussion.
“We didn’t want to just give them six points back there,” said Hutchinson of the potential of another blocked punt. “We’d gotten lucky that first time when Dustin made something out of it.
“And then we had a little miscommunication with our hand signals (on the fourth down play). Originally thought we’d go with a play action pass, but I kind of hedged a bit and went to an option off tackle. When they loaded up front I thought we were OK going off tackle, but we ran right up the middle, which didn’t work so well.”
Kindred was stuffed at the line for no gain, giving White Swan the ball at the Hornet 16-yard line. Two plays and a 2-point conversion later, the Cougars had a 22-14 lead.
The Hornets had plenty of time to get back into it. Quarterback Luke Kindred broke off a 45-yard run to the White Swan 3-yard line, but the Hornets fumbled the ball away on their next play to end the threat.
Oroville got one last chance and Kindred, who finished with 148 yards on 12 carries, took advantage of it, scoring on a 36-yard run (complete with a hurdle over a Cougar defender at the goal line) to cut the White Swan advantage to 22-20. But a fumbled hand-off on the 2-point conversion attempt – the Hornets’ fourth fumble of the game – left them two points shy. White Swan recovered the ensuing onside kick and the game was all but over.
“The kids are pretty down,” Hutchinson said. “They’re thinking their playoff chances are just about done. But they played a good game against a good team.
“The game that really hurts is the loss down at Kittitas a few weeks ago.”
That said, a number of things could fall that Hornets’ way that aren’t all that improbable (as long as the Hornets beat winless Bridgeport this week):
– If Liberty Bell ( now 3-1 in league play) beats Kittitas (3-1) and loses to White Swan (4-0), the Hornets, Mountain Lions and Kittitas would all finish at 4-2, tied for second place in the league. Since all would have beaten one and lost to the other, a three-way playoff to determine which one of the three advances to the state tournament would be held early the week of the first state game. That actually could work to the Hornets’ advantage as Liberty Bell would be only three days removed from its showdown with White Swan, while the Hornets play a meaningless non-league game against Chief Leschi that week.
– Less probable, but helpful, would be a Manson (1-4) upset of Kittitas. If Liberty Bell also beat Kittitas but lost to White Swan, Oroville and Liberty Bell would finish tied for second place, and since the Hornets beat the Mountain Lions head to head, the Hornets would advance.
– If Liberty Bell beats White Swan in Week 10, however, the Cougars and Mountain Lions at 5-1 would take the two state berths.
It would all have been easier, of course, had the Hornets held onto win last Friday, and for awhile it looked like they might. Tanner Smith’s 37-yard touchdown catch from Kindred on the Hornets’ final drive of the first half gave Oroville a 7-0 lead. But White Swan responded with a two-minute drive to pull within one as Joseph Kosik found Tristan Spencer in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard grab on the final play of the first half that Joe Sarmiento came inches from knocking down.
The Hornets took a 14-6 lead on Smith’s 26-yard run early in the third quarter. This time White Swan responded with a 13-play, 68-yard drive, ramming their big line and the immense Picard right up the middle of the Hornet defense.
Kosik, who was 7-of-14 for 94 yards through the air in the first half, didn’t throw a pass in the second half as the Cougars relied on their retro, but effective, scrum.
Brian Walker scored both second half touchdowns for White Swan, the second a 7-yard run after the Cougars took possession at the Oroville 16-yard line following the failed fourth-down play.
Walker finished with 83 yards rushing and Picard had 74 for White Swan (7-1, 4-0 CWL).
Smith rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries and had the one catch for 37 yards for the Hornets.
Sean DeWitte had a huge 23-yard catch on 3rd-and-17 that set up Kindred’s late touchdown. Brian Wise and Nathan Hugus also had one catch apiece. Kindred was 4-of-7 passing for 96 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
Kindred (in on 15 tackles), DeWitte (eight tackles), Logan Mills (11 tackles and a fumble recovery) and Connelly Quick (an interception, and a strip of Picard for a fumble) led the Oroville (5-2, 3-2) defense.
“DeWitte played a really, really good game and Quick had a good game, too,” Hutchinson said. “Quick could have had another interception and maybe a touchdown – he had their little screen pass read perfectly but he got shoved pretty hard in the back and ended up without having a chance at the ball.
“Now we just need to get these last two. Not making the playoffs would be disappointing, but 7-2 would still be a pretty good season.”