Nonleague win over Umatilla sparks fresh hope after season opens with a winILWACO, Wash. - Petersen Field was returned to its rightful owner Friday night, and the Ilwaco Fishermen can once again proudly proclaim: "It's our house!"
For the first time since a 35-7 win over Ridgefield midway through the 2002 season, the Ilwaco football team won a home game.
It took a few lucky breaks and a big defensive stand in the closing minutes to do it, but the Fishermen withstood the challenge from Umatilla, holding off the Vikings for a 14-8 season-opening victory.
"We only won one game last year, and we didn't win it at home," said Ilwaco coach Ned Bittner. "So to get the win in the first week, at home, that's big. Now we can get the ball rolling, because we start league next Friday."
With their move back to the Class 1A level, there are a few more expectations from the Fishermen this season, as evidenced by their No. 14 ranking in the preseason polls.
Bittner was subject to a few expectations of his own.
Celebrating his 10-year class reunion, the Ilwaco graduate was under the watchful eye of former classmates in attendance.
"There was a little bit of pressure added on to it," Bittner said.
As for the game itself, the two teams battled through a scoreless first half.
Typical first-game mistakes cost both teams, as Umatilla was unable to field the opening kickoff for the first turnover, but Ilwaco was stopped on a fourth-and-nine play from the 20-yard line.
Both teams fumbled the ball away on their second possessions.
Ilwaco's first drive of the second half resulted in the first points, as freshman Eddie Knick (nine carries, 36 yards) capped a 60-yard drive with a 13-yard scoring run.
An earlier 42-yard touchdown run by Knick was wiped out by a holding penalty.
The Vikings responded with their best drive of the night, a 61-yard march that ended with a five-yard touchdown run from Fay Bursell. A botched snap on the point-after attempt was salvaged by Trevor Jensen, who picked up the ball and ran in for the two-point conversion and an 8-6 lead.
Ilwaco was forced to punt on its next series, but a Umatilla player fumbled the fair catch attempt, giving the ball to the Fishermen at the Viking 35.
Following a fourth-and-one conversion at the 26, Ilwaco's Alex Martin (16 carries, 93 yards) charged up the middle on a five-yard scoring run to give the Fishermen the lead. Nick Leonard ran in the two-point conversion.
The Vikings had one last possession, and drove all the way to the Ilwaco 12-yard line with 1:06 remaining, but a false start penalty on Umatilla was followed by an interception on fourth down by Knick with 49 seconds left.
"I was a little anxious, but our defense stepped up," Bittner said. "Some guys made some plays, and that's what it's all about.
"Special teams is a third of the game, and we made a play there," Bittner said, referring to the Vikings' fumbled punt return.
"We made the fumble recovery, and that was huge.
"Typical first game," he added. "We scored early on that option (by Knick), but we had the holding call. But our defense stepped it up, and kept them from scoring in the first half.
"I knew once we got into the second half our offense would start clicking, and we'd start moving the ball a little bit more."
Ilwaco opens league play Friday at home against Rainier (Wash.).
"We went against them at camp, and they're real athletic, they've got a lot of speed and some decent size up front. Nobody's really paying attention to them, but we're not going to overlook them.
"We have a lot of young guys out there, and it was a good learning experience tonight."
Morton 21, Naselle 0NASELLE, Wash. - The Naselle Comets started the 2004 season the same they started the 2003 campaign - with a shutout loss at home.
Morton defeated Naselle 21-0 in a nonleague contest at Naselle.
Comets' quarterback Doug Wise completed 5-of-10 passes for 57 yards.
Naselle hosts Toutle Lake Friday.