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Ben Smith rushed for 104 yards, and the winning touchdown, as Coupeville nipped La Conner Saturday in an overtime thriller. (Photo courtesy Deb Smith)

He worked for this. He fought for this. He prayed for this.

When Ben Smith played the final football game of his junior season, a road contest at Interlake back in November 2019, he had no clue the world would go topsy-turvy less than four months later.

As the pandemic overran every part of our lives, high school sports were largely put on the backburner.

For Smith, the possibility of not being allowed to play his senior season has haunted him, and driven him.

He worked out, he trained, he followed every Covid-related news story he could find. Even in the darkest moments, he believed.

Saturday night, Smith and his Coupeville High School gridiron teammates, coaches, families, and fans were rewarded for that faith.

Stepping onto the gridiron to face a rival school for the first time in 17 months, playing “fall sports” in the second week of April, the Wolves rose to the occasion.

Winning a war of attrition between two young, scrappy squads, Coupeville pulled off an electrifying 6-0 win in its Northwest 2B/1B League opener.

In a game which saw big plays on defense and offense (no matter what the score might indicate), the biggest was a one-yard bull run into the end zone by Smith to cap the first high school football overtime game seen in Cow Town in maybe forever.

It’s certainly been at least a few years, as the refs huddled to refresh themselves on OT rules, while at least one fan hollered at another, “Don’t go anywhere! This ain’t soccer!! We don’t go for ties!!!”

Or, maybe that was just playing on a loop in my own head…

Never know.

But then, after 48 minutes of two teams — longtime old-school rivals reunited with Coupeville’s move from 1A to 2B — standing in the middle of the ring and smashing each other to a pulp, the Wolves dropped the hammer.

La Conner got the ball first in overtime, awarded a first-and-10 from the Coupeville 25.

At which point the Braves held on to the ball for all of about three seconds.

The Wolf defense surged, 11 men strong, battering the ball-carrier on the first play, the pigskin popping free and hitting the turf, screaming “Freedom!” like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart.

CHS freshman Zane Oldenstadt pulled off a sweet two-for-one special, wrapping up La Conner’s runner, while also reaching in and punching the ball free, with senior Dakota Eck pouncing on the suddenly-free ball.

Freshman Zane Oldenstadt came up big on both sides of the ball. (Photo courtesy Michelle Glass)

The lightning-quick turn of events handed the ball back to Coupeville, and there was no stopping Smith.

Completing a 24-carry, 104-yard performance, he plunged up the middle four straight times, his linemen driving the Braves onto their heels each time.

The first carry garnered four yards, the next two 10 apiece.

Then the final dagger went in, Smith crashing from right to left, punching a hole to the promised land, before sprinting off, his teammates chasing him to celebrate.

“This was the best game I’ve ever played in!!,” he said while bouncing with joy from well-wisher to well-wisher.

For Smith’s head coach, getting a win was big, but just returning to action was even bigger.

“Just being out there, being able to compete, play against another opponent, is huge,” Marcus Carr said. “Our defense was outstanding, and our young guys really stepped up.”

While it was a long time ago, the last Wolf team to play earned the program’s first winning record since 2005, then graduated a strong batch of seniors.

One of those departed guys, Sean Toomey-Stout, is now competing for a roster spot at the University of Washington, and the CHS coaches went and watched him participate in spring practices before their game.

Then they unleashed their newest batch of Wolves, who played with their own fiery abandon.

Alternating junior Cole Hutchinson and freshman Logan Downes at quarterback, Coupeville mixed in some precise passing with a fair amount of smash-mouth running on offense.

On defense, it was big plays and big hits, as the Wolves never allowed La Conner inside its 35-yard line during regulation.

Brian Casey, back in action after an injury cost him most of his sophomore season, made a big splash, roaring in to recover an early fumble.

After scooping up the ball, Casey moved to the sideline, the removal of his helmet revealing the most luxurious mane of golden hair in all the land, bringing an audible gasp of approval from scoreboard operator Joel Norris.

“Dude is rockin’ the killer hair!!”

Wolf sophomore Dominic Coffman may have shorter hair than Casey, but he also came up big on defense, crashing through La Conner’s line for a big-time sack deep in the backfield.

CHS stuffed the Braves on a fourth-and-one — a play upheld by a measurement from Coupeville’s all-star chain gang — with a bevy of players earning roars for other stops.

Miles Davidson, Isaiah Bittner, Josh Upchurch, and Kai Wong joined Smith in smashing runners, while Sage Downes, Tim Ursu, Scott Hilborn, and Daylon Houston chased down foes from behind, denying them crucial first downs.

While Coupeville’s defense was rock-solid, its offense was often inspired, yet came up just short of busting things wide open.

Unlike La Conner, the Wolves made it down inside the 20-yard line twice in regulation, only to have their momentum blunted by an equally-scrappy Braves defense.

The first time, Logan Downes zipped silky-smooth passes into the hands of Eck (20 yards) and older brother Sage Downes (16 yards), setting up a first-and-10 at the La Conner 18.

CHS stalled out there, though, then got unlucky on a big drive midway through the third quarter.

After softening the defense with a steady diet of Smith playing battering ram, the Wolves (almost) pulled off a stunning play.

Hutchinson found Sage Downes on the move down the left side of the field, and then things got weird.

Downes pulled in the pass, took a step or two, got hit, the ball popped free, the La Conner defender stopped his pursuit to try and convince the ref it was an incomplete pass…

Pause for a deep breath.

So then Downes picked up the ball and spun away, looking like he was on his way to a possible touchdown, only to be hit by a different Brave, with the ball getting away once again, only this time it was La Conner who recovered it.

And scene.

While the game remained scoreless throughout regulation, the action was never boring, and both teams played surprisingly smoothly considering the long layoff.

There were few penalties, and even though neither team could crack the end zone until overtime, Coupeville got folks excited right at the end of regulation.

With the ball in his hands and 17 ticks on the clock, Logan Downes scrambled out of the hands of a would-be sacker, picking up five yards on a play seemingly destined to lose 10 just moments before.

The Wolf 9th grader then put up a potentially game-winning bomb from the 38-yard line on the final play before overtime.

It disappeared into a mass of hands, as multiple La Conner defenders harassed a Wolf receiver, falling just short of providing a miracle ending.

Not that it mattered in the end, as Coupeville’s overtime domination was just a heartbeat away, sending the Wolf football faithful back to their cars with an extra skip in their steps.

The pandemic is still with us. Life is not yet back to normal.

But, for three hours Saturday night, Ben Smith and his classmates, those on the field and those in the stands, got to focus on something positive.

Take your wins, in a game or in real life, and hold on to them.

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Coupeville senior Daniel Olson closed out his high school baseball career Saturday by getting the final out in a 30-0 win. (Morgan White photos)

First, a small round of applause for Ivory Souryavong.

You probably don’t know him. I had never heard of him before Saturday.

But, as a major rebuilding season ended for a painfully-young La Conner High School baseball squad, Souryavong provided the lone highlight for Brave fans.

La Conner fell at home, and fell hard, losing 30-0 to a confident, really-starting-to-jell Coupeville squad.

The Braves sent 16 hitters to the plate in the loss, with 13 striking out against Wolf hurlers Hawthorne Wolfe, Xavier Murdy, and Daniel Olson.

Two others grounded out.

But Souryavong, a freshman third-baseman, rapped a two-out single in the bottom of the third, providing La Conner’s lone base runner.

It’s a small thing, but it should be noted — a kid refusing to go down easy even when things are not so great.

So, some kudos to Souryavong, before we move on to extolling the virtues of his foes.

And those Coupeville diamond men were in fine form, closing this pandemic-shortened season at 7-3, second-best in the Northwest 2B/1B League.

Cole White is one of six Wolf freshmen on a 16-man roster.

First-year coach Will Thayer, with a pretty young roster of his own, got the best out of his diverse team, and loses just one senior to graduation.

That’s Olson, who once upon a time was my “assistant manager” at David’s DVD Den when he was a preschooler.

He was paid in candy, and I’m still not sure all the customer’s money made it into the till…

Now all grown up (at least mostly), he scored four times Saturday, and came to the mound to get the final out of the game, the season, and his prep career.

Olson ended things with another strikeout, punching out La Conner’s lone senior, Alden Schnabel, then strolled into the twilight.

For a moment at least, as the lanky Wolf is likely to return for basketball season.

After netting just a lone run in the top of the first, Coupeville dropped a 10-spot in the second, then tacked on 15 more in the third, before coasting home with four in the fourth.

With so many runs flying across the plate, the scorebook doesn’t show how a lot of Wolf hitters got on base, and I was in Freeland, helping my sister with chicken coops, and not camped out in La Conner.

So, if you were hoping for a complete breakdown of the hit parade, this is not the story you seek.

But suffice it to say that Thayer was able to get all 16 of his players into the game, with his young guns getting plenty of playing time.

“Super proud of this team,” said the CHS coach. “And excited to start building towards next season.”

After a strong junior campaign, Cody Roberts is primed to be Coupeville’s #1 pitcher when next season rolls around.

Wolfe and Murdy were pitching for the first time in a game this season, while Jonathan Valenzuela paced the offense, scoring five times.

Olson and Scott Hilborn both tapped the plate four times apiece, as well, with Cody Roberts coming around three times.

Also seeing playing time in the finale were Gabe Reed, Miles Davidson, Cole White, Sage Sharp, Zane Oldenstadt, Andrew Williams, Nick Guay, Coen Killian, Peyton Caveness, and Seth Woollet.

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Dakota Eck returns an interception last season. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

One bad test, lots of fall-out.

A positive COVID-19 result for a member of the Friday Harbor High School boys track and field team will derail its scheduled football opener.

That’s because many of the school’s track athletes are also football players, and will have to sit out for two weeks.

That game, set for April 9, was supposed to be a road contest at Coupeville.

The Wolves will instead pick up a game with La Conner to take its place, but will play Saturday, April 10 instead.

Kickoff is 6 PM.

“It was better for the officials (to move to Saturday),” said Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith.

The move creates a bit of a conflict for CHS workers, as Coupeville also hosts its home volleyball opener the same day, with JV at 3:30 and varsity at 5:00.

But, it is what it is, in this Age of Coronavirus.

“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room in our short seasons this year,” Smith said.

With opponents flipped out, the hope is Coupeville football will still have a four-game schedule in this pandemic-shortened campaign.

After the opener, the Wolf gridiron squad is off until Friday, April 23, when it travels to Friday Harbor.

A road game at La Conner April 30, and a home contest May 8 versus Concrete comprise the pared-down schedule.

As we transition from spring sports into traditional fall sports, info on how fan seating will be handled for football, volleyball, and soccer will be released later this week, Smith said.

 

UPDATE — 3/30 @ 2:45 PM:

Volleyball start times changed to 11 AM for JV and 12:30 PM for varsity. So no conflict.

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Daniel Olson had five hits Friday as Coupeville swept a doubleheader from visiting La Conner. (Photos by Morgan White)

It’s a tricky balancing game.

When you face an opponent which is obviously scuffling along, trying to build with younger, even middle-school aged athletes, there is a temptation to go beat the snot out of them.

To his credit, new Coupeville High School baseball coach Will Thayer did not do that Friday afternoon.

Yes, his Wolves swept visiting La Conner 12-2 and 21-0 in games shut down after five innings by the mercy rule, but it could have been much, much worse.

Instead, Thayer and his hardball aces put both games on ice, then did whatever was necessary to not rub La Conner’s face into the dirt.

From having his best hitters work on their bunting, instead of just swinging away, curtailing an aggressive running game once they were ahead, and getting every one of his 16 players into action, the afternoon will go down as a win in more ways than one.

With the sweep, Coupeville improves to 2-1 during this pandemic-shortened season, with six of its final seven games on the road.

First up is a trip to Darrington Tuesday to face the Loggers.

With Concrete cancelling its season due to a lack of players, Coupeville’s only remaining home game is March 30 against Mount Vernon Christian.

While Wolf fans won’t see their squad in person for almost three weeks, Friday’s sweep will leave positive memories.

CHS hurlers Cody Roberts and Scott Hilborn combined to throw a no-hitter on the afternoon, striking out 21 La Conner hitters.

Cody Roberts struck out nine hitters while working three innings.

Game 1:

The opener was actually close for the first 40 minutes or so, with Coupeville clinging to a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the third.

Roberts struck out nine hitters through three innings on the mound, but was stung by a couple of walks and a crucial error which allowed two unearned runs to scamper home.

The Wolves plated two of their own in the bottom of the first, thanks to singles from Hawthorne Wolfe, Xavier Murdy, and Daniel Olson, with Olson’s laser beam back up the middle ripping the glove off the La Conner pitcher’s hand.

That got a burst of applause from girlfriend (and Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Famer) Lucy Sandahl, and signaled the start of a strong day for Olson, the lone Wolf senior.

Murdy came back around to loft a towering sac fly to center to stake CHS to a 3-0 lead.

Then, after the rare defensive lapse gave La Conner brief hope, the Wolves emphatically stamped out the flickering flame.

Coupeville tacked on two runs in their half of the third, with Olson chopping an RBI single which brought Jonathan Valenzuela around, before Roberts added an RBI groundout of his own.

With Hilborn taking the mound in the fourth, the sun may have been beaming down on a beautiful afternoon, but the lights went out.

The Wolf sophomore retired all six batters he faced in game one, punching out the first five on strikeouts, before ending things by getting his last hitter to pop up weakly, the ball tumbling into catcher Sage Sharp’s waiting glove.

The bottom of the fourth was an offensive bonanza for Coupeville, as it sent 10 hitters to the plate and pushed six of them across to score.

Coen Killian started things off by slicing a shot down the right field line, getting the ball to bite down in fair territory and squirt away from a madly-charging outfielder.

Sitting on second base, but just for a second or two, he quickly came around to tap home as Wolfe ripped a run-scoring single to left-center.

After that, it was a happy hit parade, as Murdy (double), Hilborn (RBI single), and Olson (two-run single) played whack-a-mole with La Conner’s pitching.

Killian and Wolfe reteamed in the bottom of the fifth, ending the game on a walk, a stolen base, and another RBI single.

 

Hawthorne Wolfe has bat, will hurt your pitchers.

Game 2:

More of the same, but a lot more.

Hilborn went the distance, tossing a perfect game, facing the minimum 15 La Conner hitters and closing things out just before darkness descended on Cow Town.

Seven Braves went down by strikeout, five by groundout, two on fly balls to left, and one on a soft liner to second base.

By contrast, Coupeville’s hitters put together a first inning offensive tutorial, scoring 12 runs and not getting an out until their 15th batter of the frame.

Wolfe, flexing his biceps and his wheels, led off with a double to straightaway center, before Murdy followed by dumping an infield single in front of the shortstop.

After that, eight of the next nine Wolves walked, with the lone exception, Roberts, reaching on an error.

That streak included RBI walks for newcomers Miles Davidson and Andrew Williams, as everyone showed a patient eye at the plate.

Capping the assault, Hilborn, Valenzuela, and Olson connected on consecutive run-scoring singles, and it looked like the inning might last until the light faded.

La Conner escaped however, as a fair amount of Wolf fans began to openly cheer for the visitors, who held their heads high and never complained or bitched as things crumbled.

Coupeville actually went scoreless in the second, despite two more hits, but then tacked on five runs in the third and another four in the fourth to set the final margin.

With Thayer using his full roster, everyone in a Wolf uniform got in on the good times.

Peyton Caveness came off the bench to wallop a pair of hits, mashing a double to left, then an RBI single to center, causing proud older sister Coral to scream louder than when her own CHS softball squad went to state.

Meanwhile young guns Zane Oldenstadt and Cole White both collected hard-hit singles, Gabe Reed scored his first run as a Wolf, and Nick Guay and Seth Woollet got quality at-bats.

Zane Oldenstadt was one of nine Wolves to have a hit on the day.

For Thayer, getting everyone in uniform on the field was the highlight of his day.

“It was great getting those other kids in there, who might not play every game,” he said. “Andrew (Williams) made some nice defensive plays, and Coen (Killian) had good at-bats.

“And our pitching looked really good today.”

Unofficially, Wolfe, Murdy, and Olson led the way, collecting five hits apiece, while Hilborn (4), Caveness (2), Valenzuela (2), White (1), Oldenstadt (1), and Killian (1) rounded out the hit parade.

As Coupeville’s players, coaches, and fans strolled to the parking lot afterwards, a nip in the air having replaced the sun of earlier, the chatter was positive.

Wolfe, still bouncing along with every step after five hours of baseball, was asked what he was doing with the rest of his Friday night.

“Gonna go play some (basket)ball!!” said the never-tired one.

And the Wolves roll on.

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Coupeville High School softball won’t play Friday, as La Conner has put its program on hold for two weeks after a positive COVID case. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The pandemic has scrambled the schedule again.

Coupeville High School was set to host La Conner Friday for a softball doubleheader, but the games have been postponed after the Braves reported a positive COVID case on their team.

A baseball doubleheader between the two schools the same day remains on the schedule, with the first pitch planned for 3 PM in Cow Town.

La Conner’s softball team will be out for two weeks, with no practice or games.

“We will work with them upon their return to fill their schedule and get their kids the opportunity to have as much of a full season as possible,” said CHS Athletic Director Willie Smith.

“I have no details other than it’s a positive case and it is horrible news for the La Conner kids, coaches, families, and community.”

Coupeville softball, which is 2-0 on the season, will have an extra day off before it hosts Orcas Island Saturday afternoon.

Along with the postponed doubleheader, the Wolves have one other meeting with La Conner (0-2) on their schedule — a road trip April 3 for the season finale.

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