SPORTS: Port Angeles’ magical football season finally ends in state playoffs

BELLEVUE — Tom Wahl’s dignity did not dissipate amid a sea of Green-and-White.

His Port Angeles Roughriders, done in by a disastrous first quarter, had just lost convincingly, 47-26, to host Interlake on a chilly Friday night in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs.

Yet even as many of Port Angeles’ seniors cried in each others’ shoulder pads around him, mourning an improbable season now dead, the first-year head football coach had few regrets.

“It’s always hard to lose,” said Wahl, whose team rebounded from the school’s first 0-10 campaign to reach state for the first time in 18 years this fall.

“But you play your best game, and if our best game isn’t good enough, then they were better than you today.

“I told [the players] the only shame there is going to be in this season right now is if you guys don’t learn the lesson that the seniors set for you and stand on their shoulders and do better next year as the result.

“That would be the travesty to me. There’s no shame today. They played against a good team that was better than us tonight.”

Indeed, the 2A/3A KingCo’s seventh-best team outplayed the Riders (9-2 overall) almost from start to finish Friday night.

Playing before a sparse home grandstand, the host Saints (4-8) took advantage of three early Rider turnovers to race out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead.

Their high-powered shotgun attack made it hold up after that, racking up 517 yards and 24 first downs behind strong performances from quarterback Matt Malos, receiver Scott Gehlhausen and running back Jordan Todd.

Malos completed 16-of-22 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Gehlhausen caught nine balls for 161 yards and a score.

And Todd shuffled and shifted his way to 207 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries to help the Saints win their third playoff game in 11 days.

“These kids are the epitome of what it means to grow up,” said Interlake coach Jason Rimkus, whose team began the season 1-8 while playing the likes of 3A powers Bellevue, Juanita and Liberty (Renton).

“They continue to do it in front of our eyes every day. They believe, they trust each other and they are starting to come together as a team at the right time.”

The only time the Rider defense managed to come up with stops was on turnovers.

The Saints did not send out the punter once all night, with the team’s four turnovers the only thing keeping them from running away with the game.

Even on one of those giveaways — a Cody Sullivan interception in the Rider end zone that he promptly fumbled away to the Saints’ Dom Jackson — ended with an Interlake touchdown.

“They have a very good offensive team,” Wahl said.

“We didn’t think they were going to be quite that versatile. We thought it was pretty much going to be their running back that we had to stop, but you stop him and they were able to pass very effectively to all their receivers.”

The Rider passing game, however, was up and down

Quarterback Keenen Walker had back-to-back interceptions on his first two throws of the game.

The first, snared by Gehlhausen off a tipped pass to receiver Kenneth Sewell, was returned 43 yards for a touchdown and 14-0 Interlake lead.

The second came on an overthrown ball caught near midfield by Gehlhausen.

That led to Sullivan’s interception-fumble in the end zone and a 20-0 Interlake lead that the Riders spent the rest of the game trying to catch up to.

“I felt like I caught it on the 1-[yard line], so I was trying to get it into the end zone and get down so it could be a touchback,” Sullivan said. “I’m never going to forget that play for the rest of my life.”

Sullivan quickly redeemed himself on the Riders’ next possession, following up a 49-yard Rickie Porter kickoff return with a 26-yard cutback run for a touchdown.

Walker then found his rhythm after Interlake scored again, completing six of his next nine passes for 91 yards while leading the Riders on two straight scoring drives.

The junior hooked up with Colin Wheeler on an 18-yard touchdown pass to put the score at 27-13.

After linebacker Troy Marin recovered a botched Saints handoff, the Riders drove down the field again.

Walker eventually hit Sullivan on a swing pass that the senior ran in for a 13-yard touchdown to bring Port Angeles within eight points of Interlake with three minutes left in the first half.

Unfortunately, the Saints responded with a six-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard hookup between Malos and Gehlhausen.

They then came out with a pair of time-consuming touchdown drives to begin the second half that gobbled up more than 12 minutes and put the game away.

“The second half went a lot quicker than the first,” Rimkus said.

“That was the plan: Keep it in our hands, keep it moving and kill the clock.”

Interlake converted 6-of-6 third downs during those two drives.

Whether it be third-and-long or third-and-short, the Saints just seemed to always have an answer with Malos and Todd.

“They were just good and they knew what they were going to do, and we just had a hard time stopping them,” Martin said.

“[There were] lots of yards after the carry.”

Walker ended up hitting 11-of-27 passes for 132 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on the game.

Sullivan ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, while also catching two passes for 22 yards and a score.

Colin Wheeler had three catches for 56 yards and a TD and Ian Ward added 41 yards and a touchdown on five catches.

The Riders had 255 yards of offense and three turnovers, all coming during that dreadful first quarter.

“We just had a lot of things go wrong,” Sullivan said.

The loss meant Port Angeles missed out on the school’s first state football playoff victory in four tries.

Of course, the fact that these Riders were even in that position to begin with was a minor miracle.

Port Angeles came into the season on a 12-game losing streak, with many of its key contributors playing big roles in those losses.

Yet the Riders managed to win its first eight games for the first time in 43 years. After a heartbreaking 41-0 loss to rival Sequim, the Riders came up with the school’s first preliminary playoff win since 1990, a 28-21 last-second victory over Sumner.

None of that, however, eased the pain for some of the seniors Friday night.

“This hurts worse [than ending last year 0-10], a lot worse,” 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. I never felt anything like it.”

The community responded to the team as well, with Civic Field selling out in its final home game and a large contingent coming out to Bellevue on Friday night.

“It just feels good to be a Roughrider now,” Sullivan said.

“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.'”

Interlake 47, Port Angeles 26

Port Angeles 7 12 0 7– 26

Interlake 27 6 6 8– 47

First Quarter

IN–Adriano 25 pass from Malos (Lorenz kick)

IN–Gehlhausen 43 interception return (Lorenz kick)

IN–Jackson fumble recovery (Kick failed)

PA–Sullivan 26 run (Hansen kick)

IN–Todd 9 run (Lorenz kick)

Second Quarter

PA–Wheeler 18 pass from Walker (kick failed)

PA–Sullivan 13 pass from Walker (pass failed)

IN–Gehlhausen 10 pass from Malos (kick blocked)

Third Quarter

IN–Todd 46 run (kick blocked)

Fourth Quarter

IN–Todd 6 run (Ardriano pass from Malos)

PA–Ward 10 pass from Walker (Hansen kick)

Individual Stats

Rushing– PA: Sullivan 7-80, Walker 12-23, Porter 1-6, Cristion 2-2, Wheeler 1-(minus 5). IN: Todd 30-207, Malos 6-38, Marks 6-20, Lyon 3-15, Adriano 2-5.

Passing–PA: Walker 11-27-2, 132. IN: Malos 16-22-1, 232.

Receiving– PA: Ward 5-41, Wheeler 3-56, Sullivan 2-22, Porter 1-13. IN: Gehlhausen 9-161, Adriano 4-41, Todd 2-22, Kawashima 1-8.

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