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Jeff Graham: My favorite high school football playoff games

Kitsap Sun (Bremerton) logo Kitsap Sun (Bremerton) 2 days ago Jeff Graham, Kitsap Sun
a group of football players on the field: North Kitsap’s Dax Solis takes the handoff from quarterback Andrew Blackmore at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish on Friday. © Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun North Kitsap’s Dax Solis takes the handoff from quarterback Andrew Blackmore at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish on Friday.

There's a reason my inventory of clothing includes all manner of weatherproof outerwear. When you are covering sports in the fall in the Pacific Northwest, you can bank on being outdoors in all sorts of foul conditions. 

That isn't the case this year, of course, as the COVID-19 pandemic has me keeping tabs on sports from the comforts of my living room. Staying warm and toasty is nice, but it's also boring as hell. I'd trade some rain pelting me in the face right about now if it meant I'd get to watch some quality games in-person.

Some of my favorite memories during my 13 years at the Kitsap Sun include braving the elements during high school football games: having trouble keeping stats due to a soggy notebook or frozen ink in a pen; trying to keep a golf umbrella from being yanked away in the wind; typing up late-night game stories on deadline while trying to thaw out inside my car.

Cleaning out the fireplace in my house last week in preparation for what could be a nasty winter, I began thinking about my favorite football playoff games involving West Sound teams. It's rare for our squads to go deep into the postseason, but I've covered some memorable contests nonetheless — and weather played a role in cementing some of these games into my brain. 

Central Kitsap 49, Snohomish 13 (2008): Running back Howie McDonald is at the top of the list of favorite players during my time at the paper and this game stands out as his masterpiece. He rushed the ball 17 times for a school-record 398 yards and five touchdowns in a Class 4A state preliminary round game at Veteran Memorial Stadium in Snohomish. 

Sitting in my car after the game, I recall struggling to add up McDonald's rushing totals on deadline. Sports reporters aren't typically required to count that high. 

"I just felt it tonight," McDonald said. "You know how people say they are in the zone? It kind of felt like that. It felt like every time I touched the ball, I was going to score."

Central Kitsap went on to upset Olympia and Rogers of Puyallup to reach the state semifinals, where the Cougars fell 31-13 to Issaquah at the Tacoma Dome to end the season with a 9-3 record. No West Sound team has reached the semifinal round since.

South Kitsap 38, Heritage 21 (2009): South Kitsap's last playoff win came in this 4A state preliminary round game at Silverdale Stadium and saw Wolves senior quarterback Gordy Anderson pass for 361 yards and four touchdowns. It was a signature performance for Anderson as he outdueled Heritage quarterback Garrett Grayson, who would go on to play five years in the NFL.

The next week in the first round of state, South Kitsap lost 63-14 against defending state champion Skyline as the Wolves ended the season at 10-1. Skyline quarterback Jake Heaps finished with seven touchdown passes — all in the first half — and the Spartans would go on to repeat as state champs.

Skyline 16, Central Kitsap 14 (2010): The Cougars (6-4) nearly pulled off an upset win over the two-time defending state champions during an absolute deluge at Skyline's home field in the 4A state preliminary round.

It was a far different game than the Skyline playoff rout of South Kitsap the season before.

“Our mission was not to come and represent the peninsula well," Central Kitsap coach Mark Keel said. "Our mission was to come and win this football game.”

Want evidence of how strong the rain and wind felt that night? Central Kitsap properly executed a flea-flicker and wide receiver Brandon Bynum found himself open by 20 yards down field. Yet when Cougars quarterback Brett McDonald passed the ball, it held up so much that Bynum had to stop running and sprint back to the ball in order to make the catch. Instead of an easy touchdown, CK settled for a 22-yard gain. 

During interviews after the game, my umbrella smacked Keel in the face after a gust of wind, nearly poking him in the eye. I remember returning to my car and peeling off layer after layer of wet clothing, feeling like I'd just watched a football game in the middle of a hurricane.

Kingston 20, Franklin Pierce 19 (2014): This Class 2A West Central Kitsap playoff game saw the 2-7 Buccaneers upset top-seeded Cardinals in Tacoma. This is one of the coldest playoff games I can remember and also one of the longest since it went into overtime. 

Kingston charged out to a 13-0 lead, then saw Franklin Pierce tie the game with 93 seconds remaining. The Cardinals, however, missed the extra point on the game-tying touchdown, setting up overtime. The two teams traded touchdowns, but Kingston prevailed after Franklin Pierce missed another extra point, this one being blocked by Buccaneers senior Andrew Monlux.

Kingston lost to Burlington-Edison 13-3 the next week in a first-game state game in Poulsbo. It's probably the last time I'll see a three-win team reach the state tournament, but you never know.

Archbishop Murphy 28, North Kitsap 21 (2017): North Kitsap's 2017 team reminded me a lot of Central Kitsap 2008 squad and would be my pick for the best high school football team in Kitsap in the past decade.

Facing the defending 2A champion Wildcats in this 2A state quarterfinal game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish, the Vikings saw a potential game-tying (or game-winning) touchdown drive stall late in the fourth quarter. North Kitsap failed to convert on a 4th-and-1 run from ATM's 8-yard line and finished the season with a 10-1 record.

Watching video of the Vikings' final drive after the game, I saw that referees gave North Kitsap a terrible spot on a 3rd-and-2 run where quarterback Andrew Blackmore ran out of bounds at the 6-yard line. The error cost the Vikings a first down and perhaps a chance to tie/win the game.

For our readers out there, I'd be interested in hearing about memories from playoff football games you witnessed (or perhaps played in or coached in). What made those games stand out? Let me know and I'll try to compile everyone's top moments in a story at the end of November.

Jeff Graham covers high school sports for the Kitsap Sun. Reach him at jgraham@kitsapsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Jeff Graham: My favorite high school football playoff games

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