For the fourth time in five years, Sequim High's football team has seen its season end in the last minute of play. In this year's opening round of the state 2A playoffs, Centralia's Forrest Ahrens played the role of spoiler.
The senior quarterback threw all of seven passes Friday night and completed just three, but his final toss to Dominick Courcy spanned 26 yards, whose diving catch with 0.4 seconds left on the clock gave Centralia a 21-14 win at Tumwater Stadium.
The blow was a crushing one to the Wolves, who battled through a number of roadblocks: key injuries that depleted their playoff roster; a point-robbing fumble early in the game; a key injury later on in the contest; and, most excruciatingly, a failed fourth-and-1 with about half a minute to play.
Still, with 6.9 seconds remaining, the Wolves' defense held Centralia just outside their own 25-yard-line with overtime looming. Knowing that the Tiger's kicking game was weak, Sequim coach Erik Wiker predicted Centralia would go for the end zone one way or another.
Ahrens dropped back and, instead of looking for a short pass to set up one more play, he launched it deep. Courcy somehow managed to snag between a pair of Sequim defenders as he dove into the end zone with virtually no time left.
For almost the entire second half, it looked as if Sequim finally would exorcise the demons that have kept them out of the win column at state. Down 14-7 in the third quarter, the Wolves converted on Centralia's only turnover of the game, recovering a fumble at the Centralia 47. Sequim tailback Travis Decker, who finished the game with 177 rushing yards, plowed through for 18 yards on a key third-and-1 situation, then capped the six-play drive with a 5-yard score to tie the game.
The teams traded possessions, with Sequim stuffing a Centralia drive on the Wolves' 33-yard-line with 5:10 on the clock. Sequim looked poised to score with a drive that pushed into Tiger territory on nine plays, seven of them rushes. But Centralia stopped Decker for no gain on third-and-1, and with the ball on the Tiger 25-yard-line, Wiker called time out.
Sequim Erik Huston had connected on two field goals this season but none since Sept. 19 when he hit his longest, a 31-yard try against Port Angeles. Instead of a three-point try, the Wolves opted to try to get closer and whittle more time off the clock. Sequim called a quarterback sneak, but Chris Pruden, filling in for starting quarterback Drew Rickerson, got stopped for no gain, setting up the Tigers' final drive.
"Of course, right now we wish we had called something else," Wiker said. "But there were a lot of little things in the game (that made a difference). It would have been totally different if we were totally loaded in this game."
The Wolves' lineup already missing Brad Woolf, leading defensive standout and starting tailback, and starting offensive and defensive lineman Colin Kahler, Sequim went into Friday night's contest without Rickerson, who suffered a concussion in the previous game. In his stead, Pruden, the backup, was steady, throwing for 63 yards and rushing for 21 more.
"As a program we try to plug guys in and believe in them," Wiker said. "(Pruden) is a gamer, he's a playmaker."
Without Woolf, however, the Wolves were caught trying to contain Centralia fullback Zack Baldwin, who ran up 139 first-half rushing yards and 182 yards by game's end. It was Baldwin who got the Tigers on the board first with a 26-yard blast through the middle and 6-0 Centralia lead.
After the teams traded possessions, Sequim looked to get on the board in the second quarter with a 12-play drive to the Tiger 1-yard-line. and the Tigers responded with a 95-yard drive capped by Courcy's 27-yard touchdown run on fourth down-and-8. A two-point conversion gave Centralia a 14-0 lead.
Sequim finally got on the board by way of the run, from the junior tailback who has carried them much of the season. Decker, all 145 pounds of him, ate up 45 yards on Sequim's lone first half scoring drive, including a 35-yard burst to the Centralia 13-yard-line and finally a leaping, 8-yard sprint with 2:24 in the half to cut the Tigers' lead in half.
Decker tied it on Sequim's second possession in the second half following Baldwin's fumble, but the Wolves lost lineman Vinnie Cadden to a right knee injury on their next drive.
Wiker said it was tough to lose a game like this with so many key players out.
"I don't want to make excuses but we had a lot of guys out at key positions," Wiker said. "It does get frustrating, especially (missing) Brad."
The fifth-year-coach had encouraging words for his players, many of whom took the loss hard. Many of them were on the squad that fell on a last-minute field goal to Tumwater in the state playoff opener last year, ironically on the same field.
"For those of you (seniors) who are done, this is another one like Tumwater. You can hate it but ... you played like champions," Wiker said.
The Sequim coach said he has a plan to solve the dilemma of having to play for a state win at Tumwater next year.
"Next year we're going to win league and host the playoff game," he said.
Friday night's game was an exceptionally clean one: Centralia wasn't flagged for a single penalty while Sequim had four, none for more than five yards ... despite injuries, Sequim's Kahler, Rickerson and Woolf were each on the sidelines rooting on their teammates ... several former SHS players were in attendance, including former quarterbacks Kenny Hall and Wyatt Short ... Centralia moves on to play undefeated Archbishop Murphy, who dispatched Black Hills 56-7 in the first round Friday night ... Cadden's injury was to the same knee that knocked him out of the season in a game against Port Angeles Sept. 10, 2007 ... the 2009 Wolves lose several top seniors to graduation - linemen Cadden, Kahler, Andrew Dahl, Kevin Beck, CJ Kapetan - plus Woolf, Gillis, Pruden, kicker Erik Huston, special teamer Jason Harvey, defensive back/wide receiver Reed Omdal and linebacker Bryan Little.
Play of the game
Forrest Ahrens's throw is what won the game, but with the score tied at 14-14, Centralia's defensive stand on fourth-and-1 from their own 25-yard-line with 34 seconds remaining gave the Tigers the ball and stymied a hopeful Sequim squad.