IT WAS HARD not to feel a little ripped off after Saturday night’s Sequim vs. Burlington-Edison game.
Part of the fun of covering an Erik Wiker-coached Sequim Wolves football team is seeing what happens in November.
The Wolves have produced a number of state playoff classics in Wiker’s seven years as head coach, many ending in excruciatingly painful ways for Sequim fans.
Those first round state playoff contests are often the best game I see all season. (Think Sequim-Tumwater in 2007, Sequim-Centralia in ’08 and Sequim and Burlington-Edison in ’09).
So for the Wolves to reach the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs for a fifth straight year and not have something approaching a full accompaniment of players was quite a disappointment for yours truly.
No doubt the final score of Saturday’s game, a 44-13 Tigers win, would have been closer had the Wolves not been missing so many key players.
Even Burlington-Edison head coach Bruce Shearer admitted as much Saturday night in Poulsbo.
“Those injuries they had last week hurt them,” said Shearer, whose team lost to Sequim 34-32 last November in the first round. “It was a big factor.
“They probably came in short-handed and that’s a psychological disadvantage. You go in, your kids aren’t thinking you’ve got all your weapons and you’re just kind of hoping you’re going to win.
“We came out [and] we slugged it out with them. Last year they had an answer for it. We’d score, they’d score.
Added Shearer, “They just didn’t have enough weapons.”
Indeed, the Wolves were missing four All-Olympic League players.
Frank Catelli (TE/DE), Preston McFarlen (RG/LB), Tyler Forshaw (WR/CB) and Chris Dahl (RT/DT) each suffered serious injuries the week before in a preliminary playoff win over Washington High of Tacoma.
Of the four, only Dahl suited up at right tackle.
But he did not go both ways as he usually does for the defense, which was also missing all-league defensive back Nick Ramirez (injured before playoffs).
Sequim still had Olympic League MVP Isaac Yamamoto as well as first-team all-league players Drew Rickerson (QB) and Joey Hall (WR).
Yet that was hardly not enough against a big, physical Northwest Conference power like Burlington-Edison.
The Tigers simply wore down the Wolves on Saturday, pulling away in the second half with 27 of its 44 points.
“Definitely being short-handed kind of hurt us on the D-line,” Yamamoto said.
“But I give credit to Burlington-Edison and I give credit to this whole team. This whole team has come a long way and I can’t be more proud of this team.”
It was, in essence, a classic overachieving Wiker team.
The Wolves overcame the loss of seven offensive and six defensive starters from the 2009 team to win the program’s sixth league title in seven years.
Unfortunately, the loss of so many key players in just one week proved to be too much to handle Saturday.
“This has probably been the team that has gelled the most, worked hard the most together [in my time in Sequim],” said Wiker, now 1-5 in state games.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to take league and go to state.
“It’s a testimony to those kids working hard, believing in themselves.
“They really maximized their potential and played as a great team.”
History is likely littered with instances of high school football teams reaching state one year, then going winless the next.
The harsh reality of large graduating senior classes can deliver a serious blow to programs almost overnight.
Just ask Port Townsend, a team that graduated nearly all of its starters from the ’09 1A preliminary playoff squad, then went 0-9 this season.
Pulling off the opposite — a worst-to-first type of run like Port Angeles put together this fall — is another story altogether.
Turning around a program that lost all of its games the year before is almost always a slow process.
Often, a class or two must be sacrificed to get the ship moving in the right direction.
Yet this year’s Riders won their first eight games for the first time in 43 years after going 0-10 in ’09.
After a heartbreaking 41-0 loss to rival Sequim, the Riders rebounded with the school’s first preliminary playoff win in 20 years, a 28-21 last-second victory over Sumner.
Still, some players weren’t completely satisfied after Friday night’s season-ending 47-26 loss to Interlake in the first round of the 2A state playoffs.
“This hurts worse [than last year], a lot worse,” senior linebacker Troy Martin said.
“Last year we went out and did our thing, but it was nothing like this year. Everyone decided to stick together and put all of our work into it.
“It means more because everyone sacrificed so much time and effort. Everyone came together.”
With 18 seniors graduating from this year’s team, there will be a lot of holes to fill for first-year head coach Tom Wahl and company next fall.
Now the question is whether the Riders will follow the path of rival Sequim, which seemingly reloads every fall, or Port Townsend.
“I stood up in front of the young guys and all of my crying brother seniors [after the loss], and all I had to say was, ‘Underclassmen, don’t stop,'” senior starter Cody Sullivan said.
“I’m not going to make any predictions, but I know they are going to have a program that is going to fight every single down.
“This program is on its way up.”
Nearly half the Peninsula’s volleyball contingent reached state this fall.
That’s quite an accomplishment, considering that just one area team did so the year before.
Unfortunately, none of this year’s four state teams managed to win a match once it got there.
Neah Bay (1B), Crescent (1B), Sequim (2A) and Port Angeles (2A) were all eliminated after going 0-2 this past weekend.
Only Port Angeles and Sequim were able to win a single game, both coming in 3-1 consolation bracket losses.
The lack of state success speaks to the same thing I wrote about prior to the beginning of the season: Not enough access to elite level club play in the offseason.
Many teams at state are stacked with polished club players, especially at Class 2A level and above.
Until area schools field teams of similar experience and development levels, winning at state will prove a difficult proposition.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: It sure would be nice if the Olympic Peninsula had an artificial turf field.
Neah Bay, Sequim and Port Angeles had to “host” playoff football games on the Kitsap Peninsula the past two weeks since such contests require artificial turf.
And while there was a strong turnout at those games, it likely would have been larger had fans not been forced to travel 50-plus miles to attend.
Port Angeles nearly had more fans at Friday’s loss to Interlake in Bellevue. And that was at the Saints’ own field.
Speaking of travel, the Neah Bay football team will be in for a long haul this Friday.
The Red Devils must venture 306 miles to take on the Lyle/Wishram Cougars in a Class 1B first round state playoff game in Washougal.
That’s a long distance, even for the edge-of-the-earth Red Devil nation.
The Red Devils will face a running back whose traveled a few miles himself: Henry Matai.
The senior has rushed for 6,284 yards (about 3.6 miles) in 40 games during his illustrious prep career.
That puts him third on the state’s eight-man football career rushing listing.
Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.