Spanaway Lake 26, Gig Harbor 21
(Spanaway, WA) Waiting nearly nine months to take the field and start a new season of high school football is an excruciating wait. Every minute feels like weeks and then when spring turns to summer time seems to slow down even more as the opening day of high school football season draws nearer. For Gig Harbor and Spanaway Lake, that was nothing compared to the drama of each and every second of there Thursday night week one showdown at Art Crate Field.
A nonleague matchup was the feeling coming into this game but it was also seen as a great opportunity for both sides to test themselves against each other. Gig Harbor made it to the crossover round of the playoffs last season while the Spanaway Lake Sentinels were able to make it to the first round of the state tournament. Both the South Sound Conference and the Pierce County League are pretty open this season so it was a good early season measuring stick for both teams. By the 4th quarter, it felt like a state playoff game as everyone watched from the edge of their seats as the roller coaster of a game came down to the wire. It wouldn’t be decided until the final play when Spanaway Lake scored the game winning touchdown with no time left on the clock to knock off the Gig Harbor Tides by a final score of 26-21.
Gig Harbor avoided some early disaster after allowing Spanaway Lake to recover the opening kickoff of the game. After forcing a turnover on downs, the Tides offense took the field for the first time with new starting quarterback Tyler Stowers. Gig Harbor came out with a balanced attack of run and pass. Senior running back Jayden Mayes had to work for all of his yardage early as the Spanaway Lake defensive front led by Jace Camacho bottled up the run game. Back-to-back solid passes from Stowers helped get Gig Harbor in striking range as the senior found Liam Green for 19 yards and then Mayes took a swing pass for 14 yards to get the Tides inside the 10-yard line. It only took a couple of plays before Jayden Mayes found the endzone for the first Gig Harbor points of the season as the Tides took a 7-0 lead.
The jitters that Spanaway Lake dealt with on their first offensive drive were washed away as they took the field for the second time. Facing a third and long after a penalty, junior quarterback Chase Best somehow escaped heavy pressure a delivered a strike downfield to Raymond Kunimoto who was able to make a tough catch for 27 yards and a first down. Another junior in LaRon Paige followed that with his first carry of the game for 32 yards, setting up the Sentinels at the 12 yard line. D’Aryhian Clemons would do the rest as the standout running back found his way into the endzone for the 12-yard score. Spanaway Lake went 71 yards on three consecutive plays but the extra point was blocked which kept Gig Harbor out in front 7-6.
Heading into the 2nd quarter with the score still 7-6, the Gig Harbor Tides were well behind the change after a combination sack by Jared Faulkner and Jace Camacho. That brought up the first punt attempt of this game but the first punt would have to wait. An errant snap had punter Boone Leverett brought down at the two-yard line which gave the Sentinels prime field position. Two plays later, Chase Best ran a QB sneak for the one yard score. A successful two-point conversion for LaRon Paige had Spanaway Lake out in front for the first time with a 14-7 lead. Thanks to Spanaway Lake punter Sebastian Cuesta pinning Gig Harbor back deep in their own territory a couple of times, that would be the score as the teams went into the halftime break.
Coming out of the halftime break, Gig Harbor head coach Darrin Reeves had his squad fired up on both sides of the ball. After forcing a quick three and out to get their offense back on the field, Gig Harbor began to turn the tides. Some quick, short passes started to add up for the Tides. As Ben Stevens moved them into Spanaway Lake territory, Gig Harbor opted to go for it on 4th and 7 and Stowers found Liam Green for 12 yards and a fresh set of downs. On the next third down, DJ Darling would make an incredible diving catch for a 26 yard gain and making it first and goal for Gig Harbor. Ayden Fink would capitalize on the opportunity for a short one yard score and Boone Leverett added on a PAT to tie the game up at 14-14.
A pass interference was all that prevented Gig Harbor from forcing another three and out. A big open field tackle by Ryland Geldermann did force a Spanaway Lake punt and gave the Tides a chance to retake the lead. It would be even better for Gig Harbor as the snap went over the punter’s head and gave the Tides their best starting field position at the 12-yard line. A third down came and Tyler Stowers rolled out and floated one to Ryder Ruiz for an eight-yard touchdown, giving Stowers his first touchdown pass of the season. Just like that Gig Harbor had the lead back at 21-14.
Spanaway Lake continued to get in their own way with some penalties and ended up with another three and out. A good punt by Cuesta had Gig Harbor starting with the ball at their own 25-yard line. The Tides had all the momentum on their side and were looking to pull away. Then came the game changing play. Tyler Stowers looked out to the flat but D’Aryhian Clemons had it read perfectly. The junior added a defensive score with a 21-yard pick six to swing some momentum back onto the Sentinels side. Another blocked PAT did keep Gig Harbor out in front but the score was all of a sudden just 21-20.
Both teams traded punts and then things began to get crazy. On fourth and short, Gig Harbor opted to punt from right around midfield. The snap would be dropped by the punter and Jared Faulkner scooped up the loose ball and was off and running. Benji Park made a touchdown saving tackle as Spanaway Lake was set up with great field position. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would back them up a bit. On a handoff to D’Aryhian Clemons, a defender just got his hand on the football and knocked it loose. Gig Harbor would recover the fumble and took the ball back over with a chance to put the game on ice.
Jayden Mayes picked up one first down and the Tides were a yard short of the game winning first down but faced a fourth and one at their own 20 after Spanaway Lake used their first timeout. Gig Harbor would decide to go for it as they were a yard away from a week one win. The Sentinel defensive line that had been so good all game long had one last stand in them and stopped the Tides short of the first down to get the ball back at the Gig Harbor 20-yard line with under two minutes to go in the game.
Facing a third down and ten, Chase Best was going to have to make a play for the Sentinels. It wouldn’t be easy as Gig Harbor put pressure on Best and he had to just float one up to the middle of the field, Raymond Kunimoto was right there and made a tough catch and turned it into a big play. Kunimoto finessed his way down to the two-yard line, setting up first and goal with 36 seconds remaining. Gig Harbor’s defensive front stuffed back-to-back runs from D’Aryhian Clemons and Chase Best to make it third and goal with 1.6 seconds left on the clock after Spanaway Lake took their final time out. With back-to-back runs up the middle, the Tides were ready for another one. They loaded up the tackle box and sold out for the run up the middle. Instead, Best turned and gave the ball to Clemons who bounced it to the outside and walked into the endzone untouched. As time expired, Clemons celebrated in the endzone with the rest of the Sentinels as Spanaway Lake walked away with a dramatic 26-21 win.
Our MVP of the game was D’Aryhian Clemons for Spanaway Lake. The junior standout had 17 carries for 72 yards and two catches for 31 yard and two touchdowns on offense. Then, he added in a pick six on defense for his third score of the game, accounting for 18 of the Sentinels 26 points. Clemons also came up with some big tackles in open space on defense and even his presence on the field made Gig Harbor have to focus in on him which set up the other Sentinels for some big plays. The field vision on the game winning touchdown was just the icing on the cake as Clemons saw a lane open up for him and did not hesitate in bouncing it outside for the walk off.
Chase Best went 7/17 through the air for 91 yards and added in a rushing TD to his day. LaRon Paige had three carries for 34 yards as well. Raymond Kunimoto added in three catches for 48 yards. Jace Camacho rented real estate in the Gig Harbor backfield as he was a force on the defensive line for Spanaway Lake and Kelly Time Jr. was in on countless tackles for the Sentinels.
For Gig Harbor, Tyler Stowers was very consistent in the pass game with 80 yards in each half. All together, Stowers went 19-27 for 160 yards with a touchdown and added a couple rushing yards as well. Jayden Mayes had 17 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown while also catching three passes for 19 yards. Ayden Fink added a rushing touchdown while everyone get involved in the passing game. DJ Darling was the leading receiver with four catches for 45 yards while Liam Green also had four catches for 37 yards. Ben Stevens had four catches for 29 yards, Drake Matthies had two catches for 13 yards, while Matt Elher and Ryder Ruiz each had one catch with Elher’s going for nine yards and Ruiz hauling in his one catch for an eight yard touchdown.
Both teams will head into week two looking to continue to work out some early season kinks before league play. For Spanaway Lake (1-0) they will head on the road for the first time this season when they visit the 4A Mount Si Wildcats. Meanwhile, Gig Harbor (0-1) will take on another Pierce County League team when they have their home opener hosting the Bonney Lake Panthers (1-0) who opened their season on Thursday with a 29-21 win over Tahoma. Both games are scheduled to kick off next Friday (9/8) at 7pm.
You can catch the entire game on-demand on the NFHS Network. The link below will take you directly to the game. With each subscription you get access to every game on the NFHS Network live and on-demand from every state across the U.S.
DJ Darling Diving Catch
Spanaway Lake Pick Six
Walkoff Sentinel Touchdown