EVERETT — Six inches. Six points.
After a game of pounding hits and wild swings of momentum on a 100-yard field for 60 minutes, Neah Bay’s State 1B football semifinal against rival Lummi came down to six inches — a fourth-down pass thrown late in the fourth quarter by Lummi quarterback Dashawn Lawrence that was just barely too long and tickled off the fingertips of wide-open receiver Chance Poasa.
After the game, Neah Bay receiver Cameron Buzzell said the Red Devils’ games against the Blackhawks always seem to come down to one play. And he pointed out that lately, all the games are decided by six points.
“One play makes the difference,” he said.
Buzzell said that despite the hard-fought battle he had just endured, it was a friendly rivalry. Neah Bay kids see the Lummi kids all year long at football, basketball and track, he said.
Neah Bay came from behind in a thrilling back-and-forth 28-22 win over the Blackhawks to advance to the WIAA 1B Gridiron Classic Saturday. It was the third straight game between the two Northwest 1B rivals decided by six points. Lummi won in the state 1B semifinal 26-20 last year and beat Neah Bay 36-30 in a regular-season game in September.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley. ”Both teams played as hard as they could,” he said.
“There were no losers in this game,” McCaulley said.
McCaulley was proud of his team for hanging tough when Lummi seized control of the game through most of the third quarter.
“You have to hand it to our kids for fighting back,” he said.
Neah Bay will play Odessa-Harrington at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. The Titans beat Sunnyside Christian 42-40 in their semifinal to advance to the 1B championship game.
“This means a lot for the seniors. This is their last shot at the championship,” said quarterback Rwehabura Mungayi, who had a huge game on both offense and defense.
While Neah Bay’s high-powered offense got much of the attention all year, it was the Red Devils’ ferocious fourth-quarter defense that won this game, as Neah Bay completely shut down a Lummi team that had all the momentum and had taken over the game in the third quarter.
After taking a 22-14 lead early in the third quarter, Lummi, another high-powered offensive team, never got near the goal line again.
“The defense really stepped up at the end of the game. We got tough,” Munyagi said.
See-saw first half
The game was played in cold, windy, wet conditions at Everett Stadium. McCaulley said before the game turnovers would likely be key, and the Red Devils won the turnover battle, forcing three Blackhawk turnovers in the cold conditions while making none of their own.
In their previous two losses to Lummi, Neah Bay was victimized by slow starts against the Blackhawks. In one loss, the Red Devils fell behind 24-6 and in the other loss, they fell behind 26-0. The Red Devils learned their lesson and came out firing right out of the gate.
Neah Bay had three big stops in the first half to keep Lummi in check. On the opening drive, behind the running of brothers Raven and Free Borsey, Lummi moved down to the 29-yard line. The Blackhawks, who had converted one fourth down earlier in the drive, was held at the 29 when a fourth-and-10 pass fell incomplete.
After the turnover on downs, the Red Devils came roaring back down the field. Buzzell made a spectacular diving catch on a 45-yard pass from Munyagi, then moments later, Munyagi found Buzzell again on a 36-yard pass for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead with 5:40 to play in the first quarter. The point-after failed. Munyagi had 81 yards passing on that drive.
On Lummi’s next drive the Borsey brothers went to work again as Free had a 30-yard run and Raven added a 9-yard run. But, that drive stalled when Buzzell made an interception.
The Red Devils weren’t able to capitalize and Lummi took back over after Neah Bay failed to convert a fourth-and-three.
On the next drive, Raven Borsey had a 10-yard run and Free Borsey had a 9-yard run and a 9-yard reception on a shovel pass from Raven.
Lummi drove down all the way down to the 1-yard line and on a fourth-and-one on the opening play of the second quarter, the Red Devils’ defense came through again. Buzzell forced a fumble right at the goal line when his helmet popped the ball out and Kenrick Doherty Jr. recovered it.
Neah got the ball out of the shadow of the end zone, but was forced to punt.
Finally, Lummi, which had threatened all half, broke through with a score. An 11-yard run by Raven Borsey and a penalty for a late hit gave the ball to the Blackhawks on the 28-yard line. Raven Borsey finally got in the end zone on a 3-yard run with 5:13 left in the half. Free Borsey scored a two-point conversion to make it 8-6 Lummi.
The Red Devils came storming right back on their next drive. Munyagi hit Doherty with a 32-yard pass, then hit Svec for an 11-yard reception. Munyagi gained 16 yards on a broken play, reversing field and avoiding tackles the whole way, which was just a harbinger of an even more spectacular play in the second half. Munyagi then hit Buzzell with a 15-yard pass for a TD, then hit Doherty with a two-pointer to give Lummi a 14-8 lead with 1:35 left in thehalf.
It appeared Neah Bay would go into the half with the lead, but Lummi shot right back, and in the process, grabbed the game’s momentum until late in the third quarter. Raven Borsey had a 25-yard run, then the Red Devils got hit with their second penalty for a late hit, giving the Blackhawks the ball at the 25 with 47 seconds in the half. Poasa was getting wide open all game and Blackhawks’ QB Dashawn Lawrence hit him with a 25-yard pass to tie the game at 14-14 with 37 seconds left. Poasa also scored the two-pointer to give Lummi a 16-14 lead at the half.
Lummi takes over
That 58-second drive by Lummi seemed to lift the Blackhawks after halftime as they completely dominated much of the third quarter.
Neah Bay got the ball on the opening drive, but Lummi quickly forced a punt. Then, the Blackhawks marched methodically down the field, aided by a 20-yard run by Lawrence. Raven Borsey converted a fourth-and-four, then Lawrence hit James Williams on a 21-yard TD pass to make it 22-14 with 3:22 left in the third.
At this point of the game, it appeared Neah Bay was in real trouble. The Blackhawks were basically moving the ball at will while Neah Bay had some explosive plays but otherwise was having trouble moving the ball.
With 2:12 left in the third, The Red Devils were forced into a fourth-and-six at the 48-yard line. On a pass play, Munyagi found himself surrounded by three Blackhawk defenders in the backfield and looked certain to go down with a sack. If he had been tackled, it would have given the red-hot Blackhawks the ball deep in Neah Bay territory.
Munyagi somehow broke out of the crowd, then scrambled for an 11-yard gain. In a game full of turning points, that play seemed to breathe new life into the Red Devils.
Munyagi converted another fourth-and-seven on a 10-yard run to the 29, then hit Nate Tyler with a 15-yard pass. On the third fourth-down play of the drive, Munyagi converted with a two-yard run down to the 3-yard line, but pulled up hurt. He was forced to leave the game with cramping in his calf.
With the injured Munyagi on the sideline, it took the Red Devils two tries to score on a three-yard run by Buzzell through a gaping hole blown open by his offensive line. Munyagi was able to re-enter the game and scored on a two-yard run to tie the game at 22-22 with 9:21 left. The amazing 64-yard drive took six minutes and had three fourth-down conversions.
Defense comes up big
On Lummi’s next drive, the Red Devils finally slowed down the Blackhawks’ high-powered offense. Lummi drove down to the 41, but Doherty made a big tackle behind the line to make it second-and-19. Greene came up with another tackle behind the line to make it third-and-28. On third down, Lummi’s Poasa was tackled on a reverse for a 10-yard loss to make it fourth-and-38. Lummi was forced to punt for the first time in the game.
Buzzell started Neah Bay’s game-winning drive with a 30-yard punt return to the Lummi 40. The Red Devils then started using a spread formation with only three linemen and offensive players scattered from the sideline to sideline. The unusual eight-man formation worked as Munyagi hit Doherty with a 31-yard TD pass to make it 28-22 with 3:33 left. The conversion failed.
Lummi had one last serious shot at a score as the Blackhawks had the ball at the Neah Bay 42-yard line. On a bizarre third-and-13 play, Neah Bay defenders chased a scrambling Raven Borsey all the way back to his own 20. Borsey was hit as he was trying to throw the ball away. The ball bounced backward and rolled out of bounds at about the 15.
However, the referees ruled that it was a pass, not a fumble. Instead of a 40-yard loss on the play and what would have been fourth-and-forever, Lummi had the ball back on the 42-yard line with a doable fourth-and-13 with 1:56 to play.
It was a huge call that nearly cost the Red Devils the game on the next play. On the ensuing play, Poasa got wide open again downfield when a Neah Bay defender got picked by a Blackhawk. “We got picked on that play pretty bad. It wasn’t called,” said McCaulley.
A perfect pass would have likely resulted in a game-tying score. Lawrence’s pass had a little too much air under it, however, and Poasa was not able to hold on to the ball as he dove to the FieldTurf trying to make the catch.
The relieved Red Devils were able to run the clock down to 16 seconds. Lummi had time for one more desperation play from midfield, but a lateral resulted in a fumble recovery.
McCaulley said the Red Devils have played Odessa-Harrington a couple of times over the years, including in the 2011 postseason.
“We haven’t seen them in a while. They’re really, really well. Their running backs are fast. They’re good,” McCaulley said.
Odessa-Harrington comes into the game undefeated with a 12-0 record.
Neah Bay, Lummi
Neah Bay 6 8 0 14— 28
Lummi 0 16 6 0— 22
NB — Cameron Buzzell 36 pass from Rwehabura Munyagi (run failed)
Lummi — Raven Borsey 2 run (Free Borsey run)
NB — Buzzell 15 run (Kenrick Doherty Jr. pass from Munyagi)
Lummi — Chance Poasa 25 pass from Dashawn Lawrence (Poasa pass from Lawrence)
Lummi — James Williams 20 pass from Lawrence (run failed)
NB — Buzzell 2 run (Munyagi run)
NB — Doherty Jr. 31 pass from Munyagi (run failed)
RUSHING — Neah Bay: Rwehabura Munyagi 14-67, Cole Svec 12-46, Cameron Buzzell 12-30. Lummi: Raven Borsey 16-101, Free Borsey 10-15, Dashawn Lawrence 10-68, James Williams 1-10, Chance Poasa 1-(-9).
PASSING — Neah Bay: Rwehabura Munyagi 6-14-0-139, 2TDs. Lummi: Dashawn Lawrence 6-12-0-79, 2TDs; Raven Borsey 1-2-1-4, Free Borsey 1-1-0-1.
RECEIVING — Neah Bay: Cameron Buzzell 3-81, Kenrick Doherty Jr. 1-32, Cole Svec 1-11, Nate Tyler 1-15. Lummi: Free Borsey 3-24, Caleb Revey 1-1, Chance Poasa 2-35, James Williams 2-24.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]