It’s hard to believe Graham-Kapowsin High School football coach Eric Kurle was once a pass-happy quarterback.
His Eagles’ offense hums best when it runs the rock.
Second-ranked Graham-Kapowsin rolled up 504 yards of offense, including 417 on the ground, and the Eagles rebounded from an early deficit to crunch Gonzaga Prep, 41-17, in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs at Art Crate Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Bullpups held a 17-7 lead with 4:02 remaining in the first half, but only gained 29 yards after that.
Graham-Kapowsin, which is the No. 4 seed in the tournament, will host fifth-seeded Bothell next week in the 4A quarterfinals.
Here are five takeaways from the No. 2 Graham-Kapowsin-Gonzaga Prep game:
FROM UNHERALDED NEWCOMER TO STARTING TAILBACK, SHABRO JOHNSON STOLE THE SHOW
Johnson grew up in Auburn with few friends and no interest in football.
That changed when his family moved to a new community prior to his eighth-grade year – Graham.
Now, Johnson leads a powerful trio of running backs that also includes Michael Kelley Jr. and Jonas Waugh.
He gained a season-high 211 yards on 22 carries in the victory Saturday, and broke open the game with his 76-yard touchdown scamper with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter.
“He plays hard every time he gets the ball,” Kurle said.
After Waugh departed early in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, Johnson became the workhorse, carrying it 17 times for 170 yards.
He came up just short of his career-high 233 yards against Rogers of Puyallup last season.
“The first people I met was football players when I came here five years,” Johnson said. “They are like family now.”
THERE’S AN OLD BULL THAT CAN STILL SHOW THE EAGLES A THING OR TWO ABOUT DEFENSE. HIS NAME IS BILL JACOBS
In all honesty, the Eagles weren’t thrilled with their matchups when it came up Sunday, facing Gonzaga Prep and its triple option attack.
They don’t see that kind of offense in the 4A SPSL (Sumner is the closest thing to it). And they had four days to prepare for it this week.
Well, that is why you listen to Bill Jacobs, who used to be Kurle’s longtime defensive coordinator starting in the 1990s. He now serves more as a part-time consultant.
But as the season has gone on, Jacobs has begun to attend more and more practice. He even gave an animated proper tackling display this week by crouching a few times on the ground.
And he’s the lone coach associated with the Eagles program who has faced a triple option attack before. When he ran the defense at Eatonville in 1990, the Cruisers faced it with Ephrata in the Class 1A title game.
“The old man brings the fire,” Kurle said.
THIS GAME TURNED LATE IN THE FIRST HALF ON GONZAGA PREP’S MISTAKES/MISFORTUNE
For the first 20 minutes of the game, the top team from the 4A Greater Spokane League was winning the battle.
The defense made a key fourth-down stop on the Eagles’ first series, then forced a fumble as Waugh was going into the end zone on their second drive.
Gonzaga Prep struck gold on big plays on offense – Ryan McKenna’s 43-yard pass to Cayden Kerr set up the quarterback’s short touchdown run. Brendan Kelly busted up the middle for a 46-yard rushing score.
And the Bullpups were threatening to make it 21-7 late in the first half before they incurred a personal foul penalty that changed everything. They eventually settled for a field goal.
Gonzaga Prep committed three 15-yard penalties (controversial) in the final four minutes, and was not given one on a defensive pass interference on a McKenna downfield pass (controversial) that gave the Eagles life.
Graham-Kapowsin scored two touchdown in the final 2:19 to grab a 21-17 lead.
Bullpups coach David McKenna gave the Eagles full credit, but he was noticeably irritated after the game.
“Too many mistakes,” he said.
UH-OH, NOW EAGLES DO-EVERYTHING WIDE RECEIVER MALAKI ROBERSON IS SEEING TIME AS ‘WILDCAT’ QUARTERBACK
A few weeks ago, Graham-Kapowsin lost its backup quarterback to Nate Thomas. So, Kurle appointed Roberson, the team’s top pass catcher, to that duty.
In the process, Kurle also began utilizing Roberson in direct-snap situations in practice – and unveiled it in the final game of the regular season.
On Saturday, Roberson scored the Eagles’ first touchdown in his first “Wildcat” carry – a 47-yarder up the middle at the end of the first quarter.
“We did a little bit of this during the spring,” Kurle said. “And we’ve got a whole package for him because he can run the whole offense, and make all the throws. … He loves it.”
GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN HAS BEEN KNOWN TO WEAR TEAMS OUT IN THE SECOND HALF. IT HAPPENED AGAIN
Kurle couldn’t draw up a more productive second half for his squad Saturday.
On offense, the Eagles scored on their first three drives, rolling up 246 rushing yards (of 255 total). They held the football for 16:44.
On defense, they held Gonzaga Prep to 18 yards, including just 2 yards in the third quarter.
“I thought we did a good job, as a coaching staff, making adjustments,” Kurle said. “On defense, it was more getting our kids focused on what we did all week. They were trying to make every play (in the first half) instead of taking care of their responsibility.”