Sequim’s Taig Wiker (15) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the Wolves’ 37-21 West Central District III 2A district playoff win over River Ridge. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim’s Taig Wiker (15) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the Wolves’ 37-21 West Central District III 2A district playoff win over River Ridge. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

DISTRICT FOOTBALL: Sequim gets back on track, makes state tournament

BREMERTON — Sequim was out of sorts in the first quarter of their winner-to-state, loser-out Class 2A West Central District football playoff with the River Ridge Hawks.

Players didn’t rush to the ball when the Hawks squib kicked the opening kickoff of Friday’s contest at Memorial Stadium. There were substitution issues, penalties, arguments over play calls and missed assignment — and even the coaching staff’s iPads — used for quick film sessions on the sideline — were missing at the outset.

As a result, the Wolves (9-1) found themselves in a 14-0 hole after the first 12 minutes.

But the game turned Sequim’s way in the second quarter — sparked by Austin Newton up front defensively, some crucial plays in the passing game and the running of Walker Ward — and the Wolves shrugged off the slow start for a 37-21 win that seals the school’s second straight trip to the state tournament.

“We kind of let the big pressure playoff game get to us a little bit,” Ward said. “We just had to realize the game is real, we are here and we have to win or go home. We just woke up [and realized] we don’t want to go home, we want to go to state.”

Sequim coach Erik Wiker said the slow start was connected to how the team practiced coming into the contest.

“It was good, but it wasn’t crisp and I think that’s how we came out,” Wiker said. “Everything took a while and everything was meandering and I think that showed in the first quarter — no sense of urgency. … We had to get on them and they woke up.”

Down 14-0, Sequim quarterback Taig Wiker completed three passes in a row on the Wolves’ first scoring drive, including a well-executed 22-yard screen pass to Ward for a touchdown.

“That was a huge momentum booster to put us in charge and give us some confidence, Ward said. “We always have faith in our defense, so knowing the offense could put some [points up], it gave us that extra push.”

The Wolves tied the game when 6-foot-5 Hayden Eaton used his size to block out River Ridge defenders and haul in an 8-yard TD pass from Wiker on fourth-and-goal. Garrett Hoesel’s extra point gave Sequim it’s first lead, 15-14, with 3:16 left until halftime.

Sequim’s defense rose to the occasion and a Newton forced a fumble recovered by the Wolves at River Ridge’s 12-yard line. Wiker got in from 1-yard out for a 21-14 halftime score.

“Yeah, that was definitely a turning point,” Coach Wiker said. “Definitely helped there to go in and score because now we have a game. We were making them look better than they were. They were decent but we were making them look pretty good.

Wiker praised Newton’s play.

“He’s player of the game for sure, he kept us in it, I think,” the coach said. “He was making all those tackles — first quarter he was in on every tackle. And the turnover in the second quarter. Without him it could have gotten real ugly real quick.”

The Hawks quickly tied it back up, as elusive playmaker Dontae Owens returned the second half kickoff 83 yards for a score.

Sequim countered with … some counter runs by Ward, who really got things rolling on the ground after halftime. Ward ran 26 times for 164 yards on the night, more than 100 of those yards coming in the second half.

The Wolves took the lead for good at 24-21 on a 29-yard field goal by Hoesel midway through the third quarter, but it still wasn’t over.

River Ridge wasn’t getting any traction in the run game, so the Hawks went to the air and were moving the ball against Sequim.

But the Wolves picked up two important turnover on downs on the Sequim half of the field — one on an overthrown pass and the other an Isaiah Cowan deflection — and picked off three River Ridge passes late to put the kibosh on any comeback bid.

“You always have to try to take the [other team’s] best [option] away and that fed into our defense because we are best at stopping the run, and they are best at running, so if we got them to throw that’s their secondary thing,” Wiker said. “It’s quick go, [River Ridge’s quarterback is] not reading anything, he’s throwing it to a guy and then maybe we can come up with some picks,” Wiker said.

In between, Wiker and Ward ran for TD scores to extend Sequim’s advantage.

Hoesel had one of the interceptions, while Eaton nabbed two in the final five minutes to preserve the victory.

The Wolves will wait until the WIAA’s seeding committee ranks the tournament’s field of 16 teams this morning to find out their first round state opponent.

Coach Wiker ventured a guess as to where Sequim would end up, seed-wise.

“Who knows? That we didn’t win our league hurts,” he said. “Other than that, our record is good. It all depends on who makes it. If all the right people won, we should be low-middle, 12ish.”

Sequim 37, River Ridge 21

River Ridge 14 0 7 0— 21

Sequim 0 21 3 13— 37

First Quarter

RR—Owens 6 pass from J. Brown (kick blocked)

RR—D. Brown 1 run (Owens pass from J. Brown)

Second Quarter

S—Ward 22 pass from Wiker (Hoesel from Wiker)

S—Eaton 8 pass from Wiker (Hoesel kick good)

S—Wiker 1 run (pass failed)

Third Quarter

RR—Owens 83 kick return (kick good)

S—Hoesel 29 field goal

Fourth Quarter

S—Wiker 7 run (kick failed)

S—Ward 2 run (Hoesel kick)

Individual Stats

Rushing—RR: D. Brown 20-54, J. Brown 3-20, Owens 1-(-1). S: Ward 26-164, Hoesel 3-63, Wiker 15-33.

Passing—RR: J. Brown 11-20-129, TD, 3INT. S: Wiker 9-15-78, 2TDs.

Receiving—RR: Owens 5-66, Brost 4-40; Smith-Laws 1-16, Brown 1-7. S: Ward 2-40, Eaton 4-22, Hoesel 1-8, Moore 2-8.

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