NASELLE - Last week it was a chorus of "Happy Birthday" as the Comets delivered a second straight state playoff invitation to Coach Jeff Eaton with a 21-20 win at South Bend and this week it was a more subdued and soggy rendition of "Taking Care of Business" as Naselle methodically defeated Ocosta 35-0 at Rueben Penttila Field Thursday during a steady downpour.
The Comets started slowly as the injury-riddled Wildcats were able to run for two first downs and were driving into Naselle territory when Seth Scrabeck, who has had a penchant for fumbled footballs all season long, pounced on another loose ball. Naselle marched 65 yards on 13 plays and Tony Fletcher plunged over from one yard out with 2:24 remaining in the first period to give the Comets a 6-0 lead as the PAT kick was blocked.
Three plays later Mike Shirley recovered a second Ocosta fumble on the soggy evening. Nate Hines capitalized on the turnover, going 36 yards for a touchdown on a halfback option that was set up with a pair of dive plays to Alan Erickson. Quarterback Austin Burkhalter found a wide-open tight end Gabe See for the two-point conversion and a 14-0 advantage at the 6:54 mark of the second period.
Naselle's defense forced the Wildcats to punt and nine plays and 51 yards later the Comets scored with 49 seconds left in the half when Hines weaved his way for a four-yard TD run. The drive was set up by three 13-yard gains by halfback Tony Fletcher. Caleb Corona kicked the extra point to give the Comets a 21-0 advantage going into popcorn time.
"It took us awhile to get going, but Ocosta played us tough last year, too. I had to give our guys the 'what for' during a timeout, but I couldn't complain too much when we went to the locker room with a 21-0 lead," Eaton said. Naselle's defense allowed the Wildcats only 33 total yards the first half, on 12 rushes for 19 yards and 2-8 passing and 14 yards. The Comets picked up a dozen first downs in the initial 24 minutes to only three for Ocosta.
Naselle reeled off two first downs to begin the third period and then they lost their first fumble in four games. Undaunted, Gabe See recovered the pigskin when Ocosta fumbled on the very next play from scrimmage. Three snaps later Burkhalter hit Fletcher in perfect stride down the right sideline with a pass that covered 39 yards and resulted in a touchdown and a 28-0 lead after Corona's kick was successful.
Later in the third period Shirley recovered his second fumble of the contest. Burkhalter wasted no time as he connected with See for a 20-yard touchdown and a 35-0 advantage as the third period was drawing to a close. From that point on substitutes played out the string for Naselle. Unfortunately the thin Ocosta squad had only 14 players suit up, so they battled gamely, but were only able to manage two more first downs in the second half for a total of five for the contest.
Naselle out-gained the Wildcats convincingly 301-83 in total yards for the fray and produced 18 first downs. Burkhalter was 2-4 passing for 59 yards with both completions going for touchdowns and Hines led Naselle with 103 yards rushing in 13 carries. Fletcher added 68 yards and Erickson 38 as each packed the football 11 times.
Eaton had special praise for offensive and defensive linemen Shirley, Tommy Rose, Leonel Mendoza, Manuel Lopez, Scrabeck, Nathan Carlson, See and Marcus Sanchez and for the play on special teams of Nick Zimmerman and Nathaniel Finch. He said Fletcher, Burkhalter, Hines, Stephen Griss and Jesus Martinez helped limit the Ocosta passing attack to five receptions in 15 tries for a mere 14 yards.
The Comets did not punt during the contest and were penalized twice, while Ocosta punted three times for an average of 30 yards and was also flagged twice by the veteran officiating team that included referee Bill Cheatley at 83 years young and his son Eric Cheatley.
Naselle ends 5-1 in the Pacific 2B League and finishes the regular season at 6-4, while Ocosta drops to 2-7 and 0-5 in league play. The next Comets opponent will be Seattle Lutheran in the first round pf the WIAA 2B state playoffs Saturday, 1 p.m., Nov. 15 at Sammamish High School. Continue to check www.chinookobserver.com for the latest details throughout the week. The Saints defeated Naselle 22-19 earlier in the season.