ILWACO — Last year’s Fishermen picked up several solid wins, handily beating competitive Division opponents Raymond and North Beach. The Fishermen fell short against some of the state’s elite teams in their three regular season losses. In the playoffs against Toledo, the Fishermen were within six points after three quarters before the Indians pulled away for a 35-14 win.

Ethan Personius won the starting quarterback job in practice and will replace the graduated Jack Odneal, a Second-Team All-Coastal Division quarterback last year. When Ilwaco participated in a multi-team scrimmage in Astoria, Personius gained experience against the varsity pass rush and showed an ability to break tackles.

“He’s got decent speed, he’s got the ability to tuck the ball, and he throws a catchable football,” coach Kevin McNulty said.

Personius will have some dangerous weapons. First-Team All-Coastal Division receiver Alex Kaino is a speedy deep threat who caught 31 passes last year. Tenyson Ramsey is an athletic tight end. Trent Ramsey steps in as the number two receiver. Trenton Cox will see opportunities.

Even with the veteran Odneal at quarterback, last year’s Fishermen relied heavily on the running game, running over two-thirds of the time. This year’s team is likely to do so at least as much. Aside from Kaino, the team doesn’t have much speed at receiver, and the team doesn’t want to put too much pressure on a first-year varsity quarterback.

“We might have a bit of a dink-and-dunk passing game, with not a lot of three-step-drop passing. It’ll be a little bit different, but a lot of it will be the same as what we did last year,” McNulty said.

Brandon McMullen, a Second-Team All-Division running back last season, is back. Brandon Duke will also get carries. He gained experience last year while now graduated star back Alec Bell was injured. The offensive line is big and experienced.

Last year, this offense showed an ability to sustain drives and grind clock, picking up steady chunks of yardage; ball control was decisive in two or three wins, including against Raymond. Kaino provides some explosiveness and variety with long catches and the occasional end-around run.

A combination of that ball control offense and strong defense allowed Ilwaco to hold opposing offenses to 17 points or fewer in each of its seven wins last year (Nestucca had a defensive touchdown in Ilwaco’s 33-22 win.) In their four losses, against elite competition (Toledo twice, Kalama, and Pe Ell Valley), the Fishermen gave up at least 34 points each game.

Defensive tackle Royce Murray is strong against the run. He dominated much of the North Beach game, stuffing the Hyaks’ runs up the middle. McMullen, Duke and Tenyson Ramsey make an athletic group of linebackers. Kaino is a fast but undersized cornerback; the 5’11” Trent Ramsey takes over the corner spot across from him.

Last year, the Fishermen were solidly entrenched in second place in the Coastal Division of the Pacific League. They lost 41-2 against champion Pe Ell/Valley but beat Raymond, South Bend and North Beach, all competitive teams, by two to three touchdowns each. They reached the playoffs, where they lost by three touchdowns to Toledo.

If the Fishermen are to return to that level, there are some challenges to overcome. Odneal and Bell are important losses. The Fishermen created 11 turnovers in a five-game span with onside kick recoveries, a feat they are certainly not guaranteed to repeat. Nevertheless, the running game returns enough quality parts to form a strong foundation.

The Fishermen don’t just hope to return to last year’s level, of course. Ilwaco was competitive at times during both their games against Toledo, and was outgained by only 50 yards against Kalama. This gives them something to build on as they try to reach the level of the state’s elite. As noted above, Ilwaco yielded too many points to these teams. The Fishermen exceeded 34 points only twice last year, so they likely need to keep top opponents under that mark to win. Pass protection was also sometimes a problem against top opponents.

Tough non-league tests will come early. Toledo comes visiting for a playoff rematch on Sept. 8 in the season’s second game, and the Fishermen go to Kalama the following week. The Fishermen get Pe Ell/Valley at home on Oct. 13. The season opens at home against Nestucca at 7:00 pm on Sept. 1.

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