PIERRE LaBOSSIERE COLUMN: Neah Bay football returns to prominence

Other than navigating a treacherous icy stretch of highway between the Elwha River and Lake Crescent, I really enjoyed going out to Forks last weekend to catch the Neah Bay 1B state quarterfinal.

The people from both Neah Bay and Wellpenit were all incredibly friendly. The Wellpinit people had all driven more than eight hours to get to Forks.

It was a warm and sunny day, at least until the fourth quarter when the temperatures sure plunged in a hurry. It was almost a bit of a festive atmosphere. Wellpinit had just won its first-ever state playoff game and Neah Bay was looking to get back to the semifinals for the first time in six years.

The Red Devils leaped out to a 26-0 lead as running back Jodell Wimberley was virtually untouchable, both because of the Neah Bay blocking and because he’s so shifty all on his own.

Wellpinit briefly looked like it was going to make a game of it when quarterback Smokey Abrahamson, the coolest football name of 2022, connected on a touchdown pass to make it 26-8.

But Wimberley scored two touchdowns in less than a minute at the end of the first half and the opening of the second half and the game was essentially over at that point. Wellpinit’s whole game plan was to throw the ball high to a tall wide receiver and they didn’t seem to have a Plan B. Neah Bay sniffed it out and largely shut it down all day.

Neah Bay scores a lot and generates a lot of offense, but I really think it is the Red Devils’ defense that makes them special. They are tenacious. The Red Devils have allowed 61 points in eight games — two of their wins were by forfeit — an average of 7.6 points a game.

Could this team win it all? It will likely come down to Neah Bay (10-0) and Odessa (11-0). I have no idea how good Odessa really is. The only clue is Wellpinit played the Tigers earlier this year and scored 42 points on them (Odessa scored 72 and won). Neah Bay beat Wellpinit 66-14 and that second touchdown came in the last couple minutes of the game when the Red Devils were playing a lot of reserves.

Does that mean anything? Not necessarily. But, it certainly is interesting.

This is Neah Bay’s first trip to the semifinals since 2016. I was at their last semifinal game, playing in a freezing squall in Everett Stadium against Lummi. We had to cover the game from a storage room with a window. Seriously, it was a closet. It was the only dry place left available to cover the game.

The Red Devils pulled that game out, overcoming a terrible call when the Lummi quarterback fumbled a ball out of bounds for a 30-yard loss on third down but the refs ruled it was an incomplete pass, even though the ball went backward after the Lummi kid lost possession of it.

Neah Bay had a lot of seniors on that team. The team’s starting quarterback transferred to Archbishop Thomas Murphy the following year and while the Red Devils were still pretty good, they weren’t good enough to make it back to state from 2017 to 2019 (with no tournament in 2020).

I honestly had a feeling last year that this year’s team would be special. Last year, with a team full of freshmen, a team that actually started some eighth-graders, Neah Bay managed to qualify for the state tournament. I suspected they would be scary good this year and they were better than I expected.

This year’s team is still very young, with only five seniors. They could be a power for some time to come.

Neah Bay will play Liberty Christian at 1 p.m. today at Mount Tahoma High School in the state semifinals. The game is scheduled to be streamed online at NFHS Network. The Red Devils have history with Liberty Christian. They beat the Patriots in the state finals 56-38 in 2014.

Neah Bay has quite the legacy in football, with state championships in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016. The Red Devils made the championship game in 2012 and the semifinals in 2009, 2010 and 2015. It’s nice to see them return to that prominence. Though that freezing game at Everett Stadium still feels like it was yesterday, it had been a while.

________

Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at plabossiere@peninsuladailynews.com.

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