SEATTLE – For the second consecutive year, the Mead Panthers carried the Greater Spokane League’s football banner into the Puget Sound.
For the second consecutive year they are headed home 0-1, after losing 27-14 to Camas in the WIAA’s Kickoff Classic at Qwest Field on Saturday.
“We can’t seem to win a non-league game,” Mead coach Sean Carty said, shaking his head. “We knew Camas was good, but we just couldn’t overcome those two tough breaks at the beginning. We didn’t play well enough to overcome them.”
The breaks included Camas’ opening kickoff, which hit at the Mead 25, bounced back to the 29 and was covered by the Papermakers’ Darne Hammond while the Panther return team ran to set up their wedge.
“That was the most amazing thing ever,” Camas’ Nikko Listek said. “We went for a regular kick and the ball bounced our way.
“It was a freak accident, and it worked for us.”
The “accident” turned into a 7-0 lead eight plays later when Justin Bacon took a pitch 6 yards around left end.
The next break came three plays later when Skylar Jessen fumbled struggling for extra yards near midfield. Another eight-play, short-field drive, again culminated by a Bacon run (this one for 13 yards) and it was 13-0 after a missed extra point.
From there Jessen slowly started to get untracked – he had minus rushing yardage until just before half – beginning with an 82-yard kickoff return that led to Paul Senescall’s 5-yard TD run.
But seeing the lead cut to 13-7 didn’t seem to dismay the Papermakers, a 3A school from of the Greater St. Helens League. How could it? They’ve already overcome a team meltdown, which resulted in five all-league players deciding not to return for their senior year.
Marcus Springs took the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a score and whatever momentum the Panthers had built was gone.
“It wasn’t good,” Carty said when asked the impact of the return. “We obviously didn’t have the right guys on kick coverage when they run a basic wedge just like we do and we can’t stop it. There will be changes.”
The Panthers’ offense made one change just before half, letting new quarterback Andy DeFelice test the Camas’ secondary, and it worked.
DeFelice, who finished 14 of 23 for 172 yards in his first varsity start, completed three passes to three different receivers for 36 yards as part of a 59-yard drive. Jessen finished it off with a 2-yard run.
And, when the Panthers came out of halftime playing with more intensity, holding Camas to a three-and-out, it looked as if they had a shot.
Jessen broke through for 29- and 22-yard runs (he finished with 116 on 15 carries), and Mead ultimately had a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. But an illegal-procedure penalty moved the Panthers back 5.
From the 13, Carty called for a fade pass into the end zone, and DeFelice threw it a hair short. But Andy Mattingly, who finished with seven receptions for 85 yards, rose above the defender and gathered it in for what appeared to be a tying score.
Except a flag fluttered out. Mattingly was called for pass interference, the ball was moved back 15 yards, the down was lost and so were the Panthers’ chances. They ended up turning the ball over on downs and Camas drove 75 yards to put it away on a Scott Hagenson to Rick Copsey 25-yard scoring pass.
“The illegal procedure penalty before was more important than the interference penalty,” Carty said. “We’re down inside the 10, that happens and now we have to throw the fade. The wheels of the cart came off after that.”
“The (interference) penalty kind of put them down,” Listek said. “They thought they had scored and now they’re way back. It hurt them emotionally more than anything. It sure took a big weight off our defense.”
After Camas had stretched the lead to 13, Mead had three final possessions. They ended in a punt, an interception and downs, all in Camas’ territory.
The final stats showed a different story than the scoreboard, with Mead having a 337 to 198 edge in total yards. But 90 yards in penalties, three turnovers and a Camas team that had something to prove were too much to overcome.
“We knew we were the underdogs, we read the papers,” Listek said. “After we lost those guys, people thought we would be awful. We have a stronger team without them. We don’t need those guys.”
Mead was missing one big guy as well, two-way starter Drew Bafaro, out with a knee injury. Sensescall took his role, gaining 59 yards on 13 tough inside runs and filling the gap at linebacker.
But no one could fill the hole created by the slow start. As Jessen put it after his first experience on the Seahawks’ field, “It was awesome walking out, but it wasn’t fun walking off.”