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Posts Tagged ‘The Bucket’

CHS freshman Tim Ursu, giving up 100 or more pounds to 11 different South Whidbey players, twice picked up hard-earned first downs Friday on strong runs. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

“I’ll take this effort and fight any day.”

In less than two full seasons at the helm of the Coupeville High School football team, coach Marcus Carr has brought a new fire to the program.

The current incarnation of the Wolves already have their most wins in a single season since 2014, and even in their losses, have shown a fight missing in recent years.

While Carr wanted a win Friday night, a Homecoming victory against South Whidbey that would have given the Wolves ownership of The Bucket, he didn’t get it.

Coupeville fell 35-7 to a visiting Falcon team which boasts 14 seniors and twice as many 200+ pound players as a freshman-heavy Wolf roster does.

South Whidbey football, which came back from the brink of extinction thanks to the return of coach Mark Hodson, has earned its 5-2 record this year thanks to good, hard-nosed defensive play and an opportunistic offense.

But, even with the loss, which snaps a three-game winning streak, Coupeville is still sitting strong at 4-3 with two very winnable games left on its schedule.

A victory away from posting the first winning record by a CHS football team since 2005, this year’s squad hasn’t backed down from anyone.

And that’s why Carr could see the positives as he surveyed the field after Friday’s loss.

“We showed a lot of fight, fought hard against a big, strong team,” he said. “Our whole defensive unit really stood up for us and did their best to hold them, even when they were put in bad positions a lot of the time.”

South Whidbey entered the game on the heels of an agonizing loss on the road to Cedar Park Christian, a royal rumble where the Falcons surrendered the winning score on a 90+ yard drive during the final two minutes of action.

Coupeville came in having bounced La Conner, Kittitas, and Northwest Christian in succession, the last two after making epic road trips.

With both teams boasting 4-2 records at the start of the night, the best on Whidbey Island, as Oak Harbor struggles through a 1-6 rebuilding season which includes another loss Friday, the table was set.

For much of the first half, it was a war of attrition, with both teams moving the ball, only to find the opposing defense unwilling to bend.

The Wolves opened the game mixing up runs from Andrew Martin and Dakota Eck with a big pass play on which Gavin Straub shot from right to left at the last second and hauled in a quick heave from Dawson Houston.

Another pass play to Sean Toomey-Stout, this one also a 10-yard pick-up like Straub’s catch, had the Wolves on the move in Falcon territory.

But that was where things stalled out, with two penalties pushing the Wolves back, before they coughed up the ball on a fumble.

If South Whidbey thought it would immediately capitalize, it was wrong, however.

The Falcons had first-and-goal from the Wolf seven-yard line, only to have Coupeville drive them back, and hard.

CHS Homecoming King Gavin Knoblich, wearing an eye-popping pair of shoes, came hurtling through a hole in the line, chasing down a South Whidbey runner who bobbled the pitch, then had nowhere to go.

Putting his man down hard, the Wolf senior cost the Falcons 12 yards, and two plays later, the ball was back in Coupeville’s hands after a run over the middle went nowhere and a pass bounced short of its intended target.

That set a trend for the rest of the first quarter, as both defenses dominated.

Gabe Shaw, Martin, and Toomey-Stout refused to give the Falcons anything, but South Whidbey’s defense was just as smothering.

As the quarter ended, both teams fumbled the ball away under intense pressure, and the scoreboard showed nothing but zeroes at the first break.

A couple of long punts, and South Whidbey picking off a halfback pass, and the thought fans would never see a score lingered in the air.

But the Falcon seniors, who brought the program back from dark days, which included losses to Coupeville as freshmen and sophomores, changed the game.

First man up was Billy Rankin, a 5-foot-6, 142-pound sledgehammer, who finally busted through the Wolf defense, crashing around the left side for a 26-yard touchdown run with a little over eight minutes left in the first half.

Not content to sting the Wolves just once, he popped back up a few plays later, bringing back a Coupeville punt 40+ yards to set his offense up.

A face mask penalty on Coupeville on the ensuing drive was costly, and then Falcon senior Aiden Coleman powered in from three yards away to stretch the lead out.

Racing the halftime clock, the Wolves tried to get a drive rolling, only to have the referees bring out the chain crew to measure on THREE consecutive plays.

Unsung Wolf heroes Lark Gustafson and Randy Payne, earning their halftime treats, which included some pretty dang good brownies they shared with the press box crew, got their moment in the spotlight.

As well as some good-natured razzing from clock operator Joel Norris.

“Get ’em some oxygen! They’re gonna need it!!,” he giggled.

The third time was the charm, as Coupeville finally got their hard-earned first down. Only to see the drive sputter out on another pick off of a halfback pass, this one thrown by a different Wolf.

Even down 14-0 at the half, it still felt like the Wolves were very much in the game.

Until the Falcons smacked Cow Town with a one-two combo early in the third quarter.

First, South Whidbey QB Kole Nelson hooked up with tall target Brady Hezel on a 35-yard touchdown pass which stung even worse since it came on fourth-and-11.

Then, after coughing up another fumble on their very first offensive play after the ensuing kickoff, the Wolves sent a tired defense immediately back on the field.

Two plays later, Bodi Hezel joined his brother in the scoring column, slamming in on a short, effective run.

In just 24 seconds of game time, the score went from 14-0 to 28-0, then it stayed that way most of the rest of the way.

With the Falcons facing a fourth-and-five from the Wolf seven-yard line, Knoblich once again stood tall, blowing up the runner and forcing a turnover on downs.

But South Whidbey punched another ball free, before Brady Hezel picked off a pass on his side of the field and took off for a pick-six which covered 60+ yards and pushed the Falcon lead to 35-0.

Even down by five scores, the Wolves, as they have in every game this season, showed no quit.

Freshman Tim Ursu, who gives up 100 or more pounds to at least 11 Falcons, twice broke off runs which gave the Wolves first downs, while Toomey-Stout found a little razzle-dazzle to end the game on a positive note.

Following Brady Hezel’s pick-six, the Falcons lofted a kickoff which, like every punt or kick, went in the opposite direction of the much-feared man known as “The Torpedo.”

On this final kick, Jonathan Partida brought the ball down into his arms, then broke to the right.

Only, instead of running with it, he crossed up the Falcons, flipping the ball to the streak of light slashing across the field in his direction.

The ball on his fingertips, no matter what South Whidbey had intended, Toomey-Stout took two quick strides, burst through a pack of would-be tacklers, and was gone, baby, gone.

Covering 55 yards in a few powerful strides, the Wolf senior crossed the line for his seventh touchdown of the season. He’s scored five on pass receptions, one on a pick-six, and now, finally, one on a return.

And I say finally, since Toomey-Stout has had no less than three return touchdowns called back this season thanks to penalty flags thrown at his young blockers.

This time, the flags stayed safely tucked into the pockets of the officials, and the electric scoring play, punctuated by a booming PAT from frosh Daylon Houston, kept CHS from being shut out for the first time this season.

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Gavin St Onge played strongly on defense Friday, but Coupeville was unable to topple South Whidbey. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

It would have been easy to pack it in.

After surrendering 34 points in an eight-and-a-half minute span Friday at South Whidbey, including three touchdowns in 90 seconds, the Coupeville High School football team had little to play for in the second half.

Facing a running clock and near-certain defeat at the hands of their Island neighbors, the Wolves knew they would be surrendering The Bucket after winning the annual rivalry game two straight years and four of the last six.

But, while Coupeville did eventually fall 48-20, sliced ‘n diced by Falcon QB Kody Newman and his support crew, the undermanned Wolves didn’t take the easy way out.

Instead, they rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a two-point conversion pass, held South Whidbey scoreless in the second half (even with Newman under center through the end of the third quarter), and exited Langley heads high.

While the loss puts Coupeville’s playoff hopes on life support, the unexpected news previously win-less Granite Falls scorched Sultan 34-6 Friday means the Wolves are still in the mix for one of the North Sound Conference postseason berths.

Four of the six teams in the league advance to the playoffs, and CHS is a game out of fourth-place with two to play.

Cedar Park Christian, which clobbered King’s 28-14 Friday, sits atop the standings at 3-0, while King’s and South Whidbey are 2-1.

Granite and Sultan are 1-2, with Coupeville at 0-3.

The Wolves, who are 3-4 overall on the season, finish with a road game at Cedar Park Oct. 19 and a home game against Granite Oct. 26.

While the first half Friday, especially the second quarter, is something Coupeville might like to forget, first-year coach Marcus Carr and his staff can point to their player’s grit down the stretch as something to build around.

When they do, they can look to the team they lost to for an example of how bad luck and worse win/loss records can be turned around.

With the Falcons flying high at 5-2 this season, after a 7-2 run last year, it might be easy to forget how badly a once-proud program had crashed.

Plagued by frequent coaching turnover and loss of players, South Whidbey suffered through three fairly terrible seasons from 2014-2016.

The Falcons were just 4-25 in that span, and in desperate need of a turnaround.

They got it when former coach Mark Hodson returned to revive the program, using Newman, a tennis prodigy turned gridiron warrior, to run his offense.

South Whidbey got permission to play an independent schedule last season, and, after losses to fellow 1A schools Coupeville and Chimacum, won seven straight against 2B and Canadian schools.

With their roster filling out nicely, and a renewed sense of pride in the program, the Falcons are once again on the upswing, and they showed it Friday night.

Playing in front of its Homecoming Crowd, South Whidbey dodged two early bullets, then made Coupeville pay for its mistakes.

A bad snap on their opening drive pinned the Falcons all the way back to their one-yard line, and, while they picked up a few yards to prevent any pesky safeties, they quickly sent out the punting unit.

Call it luck (good for the home team, bad for the visitors) or skill, but South Whidbey recovered the punt when Coupeville muffed a catch in traffic.

Given the ball right back, and hyped up on its ability to twist and turn, “Matrix“-style, avoiding the Wolves best effort to land an early KO, the Falcons promptly went to work.

Mixing runs with the occasional screen pass, then punctuating the drive with a 31-yard zig-zag scamper by its nimble-toed QB, South Whidbey marched down the field, punched the ball in to the end zone on a short run, and set the tone for the rest of the night.

A second touchdown, this one on a 57-yard dash to daylight on their very next possession, staked the Falcons to a 14-0 lead and seemed to be a crippler.

But there was still hope, at least for a bit, as Wolf junior Sean Toomey-Stout brought back the kickoff 40+ yards, before being snared by Newman, the only man between “The Torpedo” and the end zone.

While he was denied on that play, Toomey-Stout got his taste of glory soon after, hooking up with Wolf QB Dawson Houston on a gorgeous 20-yard scoring strike on fourth down early in the second quarter, out-jumping the defender, then spinning him in circles.

South Whidbey blocked the PAT, holding the score to 14-6, and memories of past Bucket games, of hard-fought battles decided by late plays, were on most fan’s minds.

And then the wheels sort of fell off.

Or, to give them credit, the Falcons knocked the wheels off.

Newman, facing third-and-two, dropped a sweet pass between defenders, then watched as Aiden Coleman turned a short gain into a game-busting 35-yard touchdown.

The PAT was snuffed, but it barely mattered, as Newman added scoring runs of seven and 10 yards, while juking the Wolves out of their shoes, before South Whidbey’s defense got nasty.

The Falcons returned a fumble for a touchdown, then picked off a pass and took it to the house, crossing the goal line with just a single second left on the clock.

The tsunami of points in the second quarter was a particular blow to Coupeville, which entered the night as the #2 scoring defense in the league.

While the Wolf D was missing four starters — Chris Battaglia, Andrew Martin, Jake Pease and Xavier Murdy — it’s questionable whether they would have changed things with the Falcons clicking on all cylinders.

We can wonder, but we’ll never know. Either way, respect should be paid to the Falcons for running their game plan nearly perfectly.

South Whidbey, which has a 36-player roster to Coupeville’s 18 active players, gave its bench a lot of playing time in the second half, while keeping some of its big timers in to provide leadership.

And leadership is what Houston, a junior in his first season as the Wolf starting QB, brings every game.

Standing tall in the pocket, he connected with Toomey-Stout on a 69-yard catch-and-run for a TD, then fired an 11-yard laser onto the fingertips of Gavin Knoblich for another score.

That gave Houston, who also hit Matt Hilborn on a two-point conversion pass to end the game, a career-best night.

His three touchdown passes against the Falcons were just one shy of tying Coupeville’s single-game record, jointly held by Corey Cross, Brad Sherman and Hunter Downes.

Toomey-Stout’s scoring catches were his ninth and tenth touchdowns this year, while Knoblich’s TD snag was his second.

As the final seconds ticked away Friday, the two teams, representing schools separated by a relatively short drive, had much in common, regardless of the score.

One program is back on the rise, basking in the glow of rebirth, while the other is putting in the work to get where the other resides.

As he scooped up The Bucket from where it had rested all game on Coupeville’s sideline, Newman, getting ready to run from teammates ready to mob him, momentarily dropped the trophy.

It was a rare slip-up on a fairly flawless night for the Falcon gunslinger, but one he quickly dealt with, snatching the wayward memento and gunning it for the other side of the field, his teammates in giddy pursuit.

What could be a depressing moment for Wolf players, coaches and fans, watching South Whidbey celebrate as its band played on and on (and on some more), should instead be something to spur Coupeville in the coming weeks and years.

The Falcons were as low as you could go two years ago, teetering on the edge of not having a program to play for, and now here they are, revived, reborn and resilient.

You don’t have to enjoy being on the wrong side of a game like this, but you can use it as fuel.

Do that, and not too very far down the road, the Wolves can be launching their own post-game celebrations on a regular basis.

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   A mere six months until Friday Night Lights return to the prairie. (David Stern photo)

Is 198 days before the first game too early to talk about the Coupeville High School football schedule?

Of course not.

Sure, the Wolves don’t even have a head coach right now, as Athletic Director Willie Smith conducts a search to replace the departed Jon Atkins.

The plan is to have a new gridiron boss in place by May, one whose career track will more closely emulate former coach Ron Bagby (25+ years) than the four guys who have combined to deliver eight seasons since Bags retired.

But, while we wait for that announcement, the Wolf football schedule has popped up online, and it reflects a mix of the past with the future.

To get right to it, this is what’s planned as of today, with (*) marking league games in the new North Sound Conference.

Aug. 31 @ Port Townsend — (6:00)
Sept. 7 Vashon Island — (6:00)
Sept. 14 Friday Harbor — (TBD)
Sept. 21 @ La Conner — (7:00)
Sept. 28 King’s (*) — (7:00)
Oct. 5 Sultan (*) — (7:00)
Oct. 12 @ South Whidbey (*) — (7:00)
Oct. 19 @ Cedar Park Christian (*) — (7:00)
Oct. 26 Granite Falls (*) — (7:00)

First things first, it’s a nine-game schedule, and not 10 games as it was the past two seasons when CHS played as part of the Olympic/Nisqually League hybrid.

Week #10 will play out in one of three ways for Coupeville football.

Finish in the top two in their six-team league and they are playoff-bound.

Miss the postseason but finish third or fourth and the Wolves get a season-ending crossover game with either the #3 or #4 school from the 1A division of the Northwest Conference.

That four-team league features Meridian, Nooksack Valley, Mount Baker and Lynden Christian.

The schools which finish fifth and sixth in the North Sound Conference football standings will be given an option of playing a crossover game against another non-playoff team.

If they choose to do so, it will be up to their AD’s to find an opponent.

A major plus is the schedule has CHS playing five games at home, and six on Whidbey.

The only road trips are short hops to Port Townsend and La Conner and a little bit longer one (47.2 miles) to Bothell.

Which, I’d like to point out, is still six miles shorter than a trip to Silverdale to face Klahowya has been the past four years.

The season kicks off with rematches with the RedHawks and Pirates, though this time they will be non-conference foes.

Then comes back-to-back tilts with a pair of Northwest 2B League schools who would have been new league mates if the WIAA had approved Coupeville’s bid to drop from 1A to 2B.

After that, the heart of the season is five league games as Coupeville and its compatriots open play in their new league.

It’s not marked yet, but Homecoming likely falls either Sept. 28 or Oct. 5.

After several years of opening the season against South Whidbey, the annual battle for The Bucket, which Coupeville has won two years straight, now drops much deeper into the season.

Add the intrigue of it being a league game again, and the stakes are just that much higher.

Some may ask why Coupeville immediately returns to Langley in 2018 after playing there in 2017, but that’s because a new league, and the two-year schedule that comes with it, just happens to break down that way.

The Falcons will fly to Cow Town in 2019.

While the Wolves will be a different team this fall, having lost a number of key seniors and facing a coaching change, they match-up well with their proposed foes.

Coupeville went 3-1 against teams from this schedule in 2017, beating La Conner, Vashon and South Whidbey, while falling to Port Townsend.

Eight of the nine teams the Wolves are scheduled to play in 2018 had losing records in 2017, including, yes, King’s, which finished 3-7.

The lone school coming off of a winning season is South Whidbey, and that comes with a caveat, as the Falcons, taking a year off from the 1A/2A Cascade Conference to rebuild their program, ran the table against much-smaller teams.

After absorbing losses to fellow 1A schools Coupeville and Chimacum to open, the Falcons won their final seven while facing 2B schools and a Canadian program playing football for the first time.

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   CHS football coach Jon Atkins has resigned after a two-season run. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

New season, new league, new coach.

Coupeville High School leaves behind the Olympic League this fall, and it will do so with a new coach at the helm of the Wolf football program.

Jon Atkins officially tendered his resignation Monday, bringing an end to his two-year run as head coach.

He compiled a 6-14 record during his two years, and is the only CHS football coach to win back-to-back times against South Whidbey since the two schools started competing for The Bucket.

Atkins is the fourth-straight Wolf gridiron coach to leave after a relatively short stint. He follows in the footsteps of Brett Smedley (one year), Tony Maggio (three) and Jay Silver (two).

Prior to that, Ron Bagby led the program for 26 seasons.

Under Atkins guidance, the Wolves went 3-7 in back-to-back seasons. He started 3-2 this year, before a crippling wave of injuries claimed most of his play-makers.

During his two years, receiver Hunter Smith and quarterback Hunter Downes both set game, season and career records.

Atkins remains a teacher and head girls basketball coach at Oak Harbor, but the grind of balancing two schools and a home life has made life difficult for the coach.

“I have loved the last two years working with the student athletes, parents, and administration,” Atkins said. “However, it has become increasingly difficult teaching at a different school  and coaching at another.

“I have found myself with less time to accomplish the things needed to get done to be a successful head coach.”

Atkins and wife Danielle have young children, and, as they grow, their athletic endeavors are beginning to take more of his time as well.

“I have also chosen to spend more time with my children,” he said. “Both of my children play soccer in the fall and basketball or baseball in the spring and I needed more time to be there from them and watch their games.

“For me, being a father is the most important job I have and both of them would like me to attend more of their functions.”

While he won’t be on the sideline next fall, Atkins will watch from afar, and root for the Wolves.

“I truly wish the CHS program all the luck and success in the years to come.”

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   Cameron Toomey-Stout picked off two passes Friday as Coupeville blanked South Whidbey 18-0. (John Fisken photo)

   Wolf fans came out in force, making the trek to Langley to cheer on their team. (Kim Bepler photos)

   Sean Toomey-Stout’s fan club responds to his game-busting fourth quarter 57-yard touchdown catch and run.

   Wolf QB Hunter Downes holds The Bucket after Coupeville beat South Whidbey for the third time in four years.

The Bucket stays in Cow Town.

Coupeville’s gridiron seniors will depart having beaten arch nemesis South Whidbey three times in four seasons after upending the Falcons 18-0 Friday night in Langley.

The season-opening non-conference win, arriving on the night SWHS renamed its football field in honor of former longtime coach Jim Leierer, gives the Wolves back-to-back victories in the clash of Island rivals.

Coming on the heels of a 41-10 win in Coupeville last year, CHS head coach Jon Atkins improved to a flawless 2-0 against the Falcons.

Overall, the Wolves have won four of the last six meetings, also winning in 2012 and 2014 under Tony Maggio.

This time around it was a tale of two defenses slugging it out, as the game went 38+ minutes without a score.

Coupeville, having held South Whidbey out of the end zone on nine consecutive possessions, finally broke the game open early in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves, with the ball in their own hands for the ninth time, struck when QB Hunter Downes dropped a gorgeous throw on a dime into the waiting hands of Hunter Smith in the left corner of the end zone.

The scoring throw, coming at the 9:54 mark of the fourth quarter, instantly changed the flow of the game.

Three plays later Jake Pease jumped on a fumble recovery for CHS, and then Downes and his receiving corps went back to work in the blink of an eye.

On the first play after the fumble, Downes threaded a short pass into the arms of Sean Toomey-Stout, who promptly blew up the tiring Falcon defense.

Shedding would-be tacklers with every fleet-footed step, the speedy sophomore ducked, bobbed, weaved, then hit an extra gear and was off to the races, leaving everyone in his wake as he roared 57 yards to the waiting end zone.

While Coupeville’s ensuing two-point conversion failed (the Wolves were 0-2 on conversions and had an extra point attempt blocked after touchdown #3), a 12-0 lead was more than enough for the riled-up CHS defense.

After forcing another turnover on downs — Smith read a fourth down pass perfectly and knocked it away from the receiver at the last millisecond — Coupeville capped the scoring with a KO punch.

Sitting at its own 11-yard line with the clock running under three minutes, the Wolves went semi-conservative, with Downes slapping a hand-off into Smith’s never-gonna-fumble hands.

While CHS would have settled for a couple of yards, a cloud of dust and a chunk of change run off the clock, Smith had other ideas.

Spinning to the right, he hung motionless for just a second, perhaps giving older brother CJ time to cock an eyebrow in appreciation up in the stands, then bolted to daylight.

Running like the state meet-bound track sprinter he can never be (he loves baseball too much), the silky senior ripped off 89 yards in a few effortless strides, only slowing at the end as he flipped the ball to the ref a moment before he was mobbed by his teammates.

Smith, who broke Chad Gale’s school career receiving yardage record on his opening catch of the game, a 12-yard snag early in the first quarter, also busted out a 52-yard reception right before halftime.

It was a game of big plays for Coupeville, even when it was struggling to break into the scoring column.

Matt Hilborn pulled off a replay-worthy catch, hauling in a 21-yard bomb from Downes while simultaneously splitting two defenders and executing a picture-perfect slide.

Meanwhile, Sean Toomey-Stout tore off 32 yards on a reversal early in the third quarter, while big brother Cameron was lights out in the defensive backfield.

The elder Toomey-Stout made off with two third-quarter interceptions (the second eventually set up the Wolves first touchdown), while also chasing down wayward Falcons on both sides of the field.

While the picks were huge, his explosive tackle on a fourth quarter kick-off, in which he went airborne and just about ripped the cleats off the guy unlucky enough to touch the ball first, drew much hootin’ and hollerin’ from a collection of former Wolf coaches in the crowd.

And he wasn’t the only Coupeville defender to earn oohs and ahs.

Jake Hoagland shut down a Falcon drive, jumping on a fumble, while Dane Lucero ended another South Whidbey possession by chasing down the rival QB in the backfield on fourth down.

Falcon signal caller Greyson Clements was an elusive target all night, prone to scrambling away for a few yards here, a few more there.

But, when they could get their hands on him, Lucero and fellow linemen Julian Welling and Trevor Bell rode him down into the grass with a cold fury.

As his players soaked in the win, Atkins pointed to the play of his defense as key.

“Getting a shutout in the first game is big time; our defense played huge for us,” he said. “That was great to see.

“It took us a little while to get going (on offense), but once we started executing and staying with our blocks, things got better,” Atkins added. “We just need to go forward, fix the little things, and keep working.”

Coupeville returns home next Friday, Sept. 8, when it hosts La Conner, which is ranked #6 in the state among 2B schools. That game will be the season-opener for the Braves.

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