Kennedy Catholic football coach Sheldon Cross is the biggest proponent of the Air Raid you will find in the high school ranks — but he also knows what else wins ballgames.
Running the football. Stopping somebody else’s run game.
Sam Huard passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns, but the Lancers’ most effective offensive player in their wild 32-27 victory over Bethel on Friday night at CenturyLink Field was the smallest guy on the field — tailback Zaire Lozolo.
And the Kennedy Catholic defense, which missed injured standout Sav’ell Smalls (head) most of the game, limited the Braves to just 100 rushing yards on 38 carries.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Pat Jones has helped give Kennedy Catholic offense better balance
Cross just chuckled at the thought of it.
“The Air Raid,” he said, “and the Wing-T.”
Yes, the Lancers have shown they can pass for gobs and gobs of yards. But Cross wanted to invest more in the run game, and contacted former longtime Bellevue assistant coach Pat Jones about how to better implement that element into the attack.
And on Friday night, with the Kennedy Catholic pass game a little bit off in its timing, the run game – led by Lozolo’s 136 yards on 19 carries – took center stage behind an offensive line now utilizing key Wing-T blocking principles.
“(Lozolo) was so reliable and consistent all night,” Huard said.
When the Lancers needed the big play, Huard still delivered
Needless to say, Huard was not thrilled with his overall numbers Friday — 15 of 28, 313 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
But honestly, it was a weird game from the outset.
Because two sustained Bethel drives sandwiched Justin Baker’s 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for the Lancers, Huard and company spent much of the first quarter on the sideline.
And when Huard did get into the game finally, he was missing passes – mainly on overthrows.
“Our guys were not nervous,” Cross said. “They were over-juiced.”
But with 38 seconds remaining in the first half, Huard hit Jabez Tinae on an 11-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score – 19-17.
And Huard opened the second half by hitting Tinae on a screen play, and the junior took it up the middle 85 yards for a touchdown.
Huard now has 80 career touchdown passes.
Say hello to the much bigger, more reliable Lancers’ defensive front
Smalls was the much-hyped offseason transfer from Garfield, but Cross has been telling anybody who would listen that his entire front seven would be much better-suited to stop the run.
And senior defensive end Jahvius Leui and sophomore defensive tackle T.J. Paega were on it all night.
The game’s biggest play came in the final few seconds of the third quarter. Trailing 25-20, Bethel went for it on fourth and 1 at the Lancers’ 11. And bullish running back Will Latu, who tallied four touchdown runs, was immediately grabbed by Leui as he made his way into the line. Paega came up and finished him off for a 1-yard loss.
“We are big. We are old. And we said all season we are going to make the stops in the run game,” Cross said.
If anything, Bethel showed it might be more dangerous in the 3A PCL
The best quarterback in the first quarter Friday was not Huard – it was Braves’ newcomer Kekoa Visperas, a transfer from Eatonville.
In his first start, he led Bethel to a touchdown on its first series – highlighted by a 33-yard completion to ninth grader Prince Malo.
In the first 14 minutes, the dual-threat Visperas completed eight of his first 11 passes for 142 yards. He finished 19 of 34 for 224 yards and no interceptions.
“We knew we had a good quarterback, and we wanted to see what he did when the lights came on,” Bethel coach Mark Iddins said. “He made good decisions, for the most part. … We are happy with where he is at.”
There is nothing ordinary about playing any high school game in an NFL stadium
Huard’s first varsity start in 2017 as a ninth grader came at a prime-time venue — Husky Stadium.
But even he had to admit, the game Friday at CenturyLink Field, whcih was broadcast on ESPNU, was bigger than that.
“Playing in this environment, you are obviously going to feel a little different. It is just the way it is,” Huard said. “We’ve played on TV, and in big moments – but this was definitely BIG.”