CATHLAMET - Naselle fumbled on the opening kickoff and Cathlamet scored what would prove to be the winning touchdown four plays later as the Mules won a 13-0 non-league lid-lifter for both football teams there Friday. The Comets would lose five fumbles and toss one interception in the battle for the KM Mountain trophy and those six turnovers were the difference against what Coach Jeff Eaton called "a playoff-bound football team."
He said, "You can't turn the football over that many times against a good team like Cathlamet. We moved the ball, stopped them at key times, but then we would shoot ourselves in the foot with a turnover or an off-side penalty." The Comets defense jumped the gun five times and on each occasion Cathlamet was able to convert the error into a first down.
And yet, Naselle was in the contest until mid-way through the final period. After the shock of the first fumble and Mule score wore off the Comets went on a 16-play, 50-yard drive that saw them march the football to Cathlamet's 15 yard line. Logan Scrabeck's nine yard run and an Austin Burkhalter pass to tight end Gabe See good for eight yards were the biggest plays of the possession. Eaton chose to gamble on fourth-and-one on his own 44 yard line and Burkhalter snuck the ball over center Mike Shirley's block for a first down. He did the same on fourth-and-inches at the Mules 15, but a lost fumble on the next play stopped Naselle cold.
After the two teams traded punts Cathlamet picked up two first downs, but the Comet defense forced another punt. Once again Naselle fumbled and lost the football on the run back and the Mules took over 21 yards from pay dirt. A Nate Carlson sack and Burkhalter's swatting away of a halfback pass kept the Mules in the barn, but Burkhalter's intercepted pass three plays later stopped Naselle's drive at the 40 yard line.
With time winding down in the first half Cathlamet picked up two first downs on the ground and moved the ball to Naselle's 12 yard line. Two running plays and a half the distance to the goal line penalty gave Cathlamet a first down, although they had only gained eight yards. The officials later admitted a mistake. Fortunately for visiting fans the one extra play before intermission was anti-climatic as Comet linebacker Alan Erickson and cornerback Scrabeck were able to stop the Mules a foot shy of the goal line as time ran out.
The second half began with the home team marching for three quick first downs, but a Scrabeck interception of a batted pass stopped their drive at the 21 yard line. Carlson's 17 yard scamper up the middle and a 14-yard pass from Burkhalter to See sparked a drive into Mule territory early in the third quarter. Carlson's five-yard dive gave Naselle a fourth-and-one play at the 18, but Cathlamet stopped Burkhalter two inches shy of a first down with 9:44 remaining in the game. Eaton stated, "That was a key play for them."
Erickson had left the contest with a subluxation of his left shoulder and Naselle inadvertently did not replace him at linebacker. Facing 10 defenders Cathlamet halfback Bryce McClain ripped off runs of 16, 22, 11, and 16 yards on four consecutive plays. Naselle's fifth off-side penalty set up a second and goal situation and McClain rushed for four yards and then Mule QB Joel Fudge scored on the next play at the 7:31 mark of the final frame from one yard out. Ironically this was the first time the Comets had 11 men on the field during the 82-yard drive.
The Mules fumbled the extra point snap and Carlson drove McClain out of bounds at the flag to keep the score at 13-0. Burkhalter then went to work through the air, finding Jesus Martinez for a 12 yard pick up, but yet another fumble stymied Naselle's offense.
The Comet defense forced a Cathlamet punt. Burkhalter took the attack to the air as he passed to See for gains of 14 and 11 yards and then John Hines gained nine yards on a sweep. Two more passes to Martinez for 13 and nine yards moved the football to the two inch line. The stubborn Mule defense stopped Burkhalter on a quarterback sneak and Naselle's sixth turnover of the game, another lost fumble, allowed Cathlamet to run out the clock and secure the KM trophy.
Eaton said following the game, "This loss stings. We know what to do, how to play, but six turnovers and five penalties is just too much to overcome. And yet our guys held them to only 13 points." He told his charges, "We can turn this around to be a positive. Put the good stuff you did in your memory banks. We blocked well, protected the passer, tackled well. This was a great tune-up game, a winnable game. Now we have to rebound and play better, especially on special teams." Naselle hosts Warrenton Friday at Reuben Penttila Field at 7 p.m.
Burkhalter said, "The turnovers killed us, but this is only one game. Our goal is making the playoffs." He was 11-23 passing, but put at least a half-dozen balls in the hands of receivers that were dropped. See said, "It felt good to be able to run in the open field after catching the ball." He pulled in four passes for 47 yards.
The Mules whiffed on all three passes they attempted, but ran for 276 yards on the ground in 52 plays to only 90 yards rushing in 25 plays for Naselle. Shirley, Erickson, Scrabeck and Carlson led the Comet defenders in tackles.