Mercer Island beats Lake Washington 7-6 to open football season

Islanders WR Treston Donovan (84) keeps his toes in bounds after a leaping catch late in the fourth quarter to help Mercer Island hang on to a 7-6 victory over Lake Washington in the season opener at Islander Stadium, Friday. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Islanders WR Treston Donovan (84) keeps his toes in bounds after a leaping catch late in the fourth quarter to help Mercer Island hang on to a 7-6 victory over Lake Washington in the season opener at Islander Stadium, Friday.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island High School football team went through some big changes during the offseason. A new head coach, realignment of the KingCo league and some dramatic changes on the field resulted in the Islanders’ first win of the season, 7-6, on Friday against Lake Washington.

“We had some first game jitters,” said new Mercer Island High School football coach John Williams. “They worked really hard in the offseason, and we played good enough to win.”

Nerves were a big part of the first half, as nearly half the Islanders on the field were new to starting. An interception and two fumbles during the first half hurt the Islanders’ ability to gain momentum. On the other side of the ball, Lake Washington scored on a 10-yard run but missed the extra point, a mistake that would come back to haunt the Kangaroos.

Mercer Island kept pounding away with the running game as well, utilizing three different backs to get into the end zone on their first drive of the second half.

“We want to be able to pass at least 40 percent of the time,” said Williams. “But we had some success moving the ball on the ground.”

Following a drive of 72 yards by the Kangaroos, the team had a chance to win the game with a first down on the Islanders’ six-yard line. The drive was dominant as the Mercer Island defensive line seemed to have no answers. But two runs and a 10-yard penalty pushed Lake Washington back and into a long third down. An open-field tackle on the line of scrimmage by junior Brad Idzik led to fourth and goal, where fellow junior Jack Harrison made the play of the game when he ran down the Kangaroos’ quarterback for a drive-ending sack.

The Islanders would effectively run the clock down on their final possession.

Mercer Island has a new starting backfield with Kurtis Rosengreen at running back and a big sophomore fullback in Ryan Blumenstein.

The Islander varsity is a mix of seniors (12), juniors (16) and sophomores (15) with just two freshman.

New starting quarterback Sam Bliss used his feet more than his arm to get yardage for his team. Bliss took over the starting position this summer and is one of the most athletic Islanders at the school.

“Sam told me he was really nervous for this game,” said Williams. “These kids stepped up when we needed it, but they have to hold onto the football.” With Bliss running the option against Lake Washington, the Islanders had limited success on offense with four turnovers during the game. The option is a style of play in which the quarterback rolls out with a running back in front of him. The quarterback has the option to throw, pitch the ball to the back or keep it and run. Bliss’s speed is an asset to that style of offense.

“You coach what you know, and that is what I know,” said Williams.

Williams took over earlier this summer when Bill Heglar abruptly stepped down to take an athletic director position at Kent Lake.

The win on Friday is only the second time in the past decade when the Islanders have won their season opener, and it came against a 4A school.

“These kids work hard and had a good offseason,” said Williams. “Now we have to turn that into wins.”

The team will have a big test on Friday when it travels to former rival Newport High School for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The realignment of the league evens out the competition level for the Islanders as the Knights, Issaquah and Skyline move to 4A. But the team to beat is still Bellevue, who the Islanders will host on Oct. 3.

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