By Linda Williams Rorem
On Saturday night – a dark, drizzling evening at Edmonds District Stadium — the MIHS varsity football squad saw its state-title run dreams dashed with a series of missed opportunities that led to a disappointing 20-17 loss against the Meadowdale Mavericks.
“The goal was to make it to the playoffs and to win a game in the playoffs, and we were successful in that,” said MIHS Head Coach Brett Ogata following the game. “But, obviously we all wanted to go further.”
The Islanders, who entered the game with an 8-2 record and several polls’ predictions for a win, experienced a reality check early in the game, as the Mavericks scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes: a 73-yard pass from quarterback Brian Marty to senior Kyler Larson, and a 45-yard, untouched run by junior standout Giavani Shepard, who would go on to run for 142 yards on 19 carries that night.
As the first quarter neared an end, the Islanders drove the ball to the 10-yard line in a series of short passes to Connor Bernal and Risley Lesko, as well as five “keepers” by senior quarterback Jeff Lindquist.
MIHS began the second quarter with a successful field goal attempt by senior Alex Wood, and the score stood at 14-3 until half time.
Lindquist stood on the sidelines as the second half started, with an apparent high-ankle sprain. Junior quarterback Brian Higgins took control of the field, and held the score for much of the third quarter. With a series of handoffs and short passes, the Islanders drove the ball to the 13 yard line, where it was turned over on downs.
On the ensuing series, a succession of illegal procedure penalty calls rattled Meadowdale, and senior Cameron Ogard’s interception of a tipped ball gave the Islanders control on the 8-yard line, and a touchdown in sight.
However, what looked like a touchdown carried in by Higgins was ruled an end-zone fumble, recovered by the Mavericks. Instead of serving as a turning point for the Islanders, the play led to a long and successful drive by the Mavericks, leaving the score at 20 – 3 with less than three minutes remaining in the quarter.
“You get to play really good teams in the playoffs, and you can’t miss opportunities and expect to win,” Ogata said.
However, with the tenacity that has served the team through its winning season and first playoff run in more than a decade, the Islanders drove the ball downfield with Higgins firing spot-on passes to Lesko, Bernal and junior Zach Bucklin.
And then, after several incomplete passes, Higgins surprised the defense with a lateral toss to tight end Max Dammeier, a 215-pound senior, who ran the ball to the 1-yard line. A false-start penalty moved the ball back to the 5-yard line, but with less than five seconds remaining in the quarter, Bernal made an end-zone catch to bring the score to 20 – 9, and Woods’ kick added another point.
Several more penalty calls and incomplete passes set the stage for a challenging fourth quarter. A long Islander drive, ending with a 36-yard pass to Senior Nicky Sinclair, took the ball to the 4-yard line, but two successive passes to the end zone were incomplete, and, following the fourth down, Woods’ 25-yard kick made a dramatic collision with the goal post.
In the fourth quarter, Meadowdale charged downfield, and despite three penalty calls, carried the ball to the 5-yard line. However, the Islanders’ defense was in full armor, and forced a fourth-down punt, which brought the ball to Mercer Island’s 39-yard line.
The Islanders suffered another heartbreak, though, as an intercepted end-zone pass resulted in a 37-yard return by the Mavericks. Again, the Islanders forced a fourth-down punt.
With three and a half minutes left on the clock, Lindquist re-entered the game, but his first drive was unsuccessful and the ball was turned over on downs. The Mavericks’ run was marred by several big tackles, including those by senior Phil Frasier and junior Brian Rauzi.
Less than two minutes remained when Lindquist was brought down, and the quarterback left the field with a visibly injured – or reinjured — ankle.
Higgins rushed back into the game, and thanks to a series of keepers, a completed pass to Lesko and a personal foul against Meadowdale, brought the ball to the 11-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining. Sinclair made an end-zone catch, which was followed by an extra-point kick, bringing the score to 20-17.
However, when their onside kick attempt was thwarted, the Islanders’ 2011 season effectively ended.
After the game, Coach Ogata – whose last playoff run with the Islander was 23 years ago, when he was an MIHS senior – said, “I just want to say thank you to the seniors. They are great kids, and that is what I’m going to miss the most about them. They were awesome this year, and have done a lot to change the culture of this community. The attitude now is that we expect to win, and that’s the huge difference that the seniors installed.”
The Islander Nation is already gearing up for next year.