POMEROY — After the win, the head coach interrupted his praise to ask his weary players two questions.
“Are you done?” Kevin McNulty demanded.
“No!” replied the Naselle team, as one.
“Have you achieved your goal?
The emphatic exchange followed the football team’s 72-42 defeat of Pomeroy Saturday.
The win advanced the Comets into a game against a familiar 1B semifinal opponent: Almira-Coulee-Hartline.
The Naselle players will suit up against the No. 1-ranked Warriors 1 p.m. Saturday for the third consecutive semifinal. In 2018, they lost. In 2019, they won, earning a trip to the WIAA championship game where they lost to Odessa.
Tough when necessary
McNulty’s team talk came as light faded on the chilly eastern Washington field while players and fans braced for the 420-mile ride home.
“It was not our best-played football game, but you are there,” he told the muddy multitude. “We were able to get tough when we needed to get tough.”
The first quarter had seen Pomeroy take the lead thanks to powerful play by hometown senior quarterback Trent Gwinn. Comet running back Jason Harman scored the first of his six touchdowns to even the score at the quarter, but Gwinn was in the end zone again in the second to restore Pomeroy’s leading margin. It would prove the Pirates’ last lead, as Harman and two Comet teammates, Joey Strange and Craig Reitz, got on the board to create an unassailable margin.
“Early it was scary,” McNulty told his charges. “We have got to decrease our miscues, but we have got another week to do this; they don’t.”
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was playing on the loudspeaker as the teams warmed up for what would be the highest-scoring 1B quarterfinal of the day. Going in, unbeaten Pomeroy was ranked 4 to Naselle’s 5.
Thudding tackles that spectators could hear across the field characterized early play. And messy onside kicks — from both teams — characterized the entire contest.
After Gwinn’s first score, the Comets regrouped. Junior Kolten Lindstrom was improperly manhandled during a promising attacking play. On the subsequent snap, junior Elmer Toftemark made a fine block that garnered praise from the stadium announcer and Harman scored from short range.
Gwinn’s second was a 74-yard solo run. Then Harman added two, his second on a terrific 66-yard pass from Comet quarterback Joey Strange.
Resolute Naselle tackling on Pomeroy’s extra-point attempts, plus determination on their own, helped tick over the scoreboard in their favor. On one 2-point play, Strange ran forward and stretched an arm rugby-style to ground the ball in the end zone despite being held. On another, Lindstrom skillfully gathered a pass from Strange.
‘Can’t relax now…’
Naselle’s halftime lead was 32-20. But the commanding voice of assistant coach Sean McNulty was adamant.
“We can’t relax now, boys!” he yelled.
Harman began the second quarter in spectacular fashion by taking a 65-yard soaring pass from Strange; but Gwinn added two to his tally and also ran in the extra points.
Then Strange stretched his legs and added to his already significant contribution. On two plays his receivers were well guarded, so he tucked the ball under his arm and raced to the end zone; one run was 62 yards, the second 40.
For the finale, Reitz savored his moments, which were among the highlights of the game. The 6-0 receiver had already made crucial tackles to stymie Pirate attacks. He ran into the end zone and caught an ambitious 46-yard pass from Strange that had his teammates mobbing him with joy.
Gwinn was an exceptional opponent, scoring five touchdowns and running in three two-point conversions. He often broke tackles and was at the center of every play.
One significant lapse, however, brought Reitz back into the spotlight as time waned. The Naselle senior intercepted a high lobbed pass from Gwinn and speedily returned it 51 yards for his second score.
Throughout the game, senior Trent Stephens, at 6-3, the tallest Comet, demonstrated his high-jump skills, batting down pass attempts. He, Toftemark and seniors Riley Thorsen and George Wilson were regularly in the action. On occasions when Gwinn was stopped, he often had three Comets holding him.
The game ended strangely. In the dying seconds, Naselle punted, but didn’t touch the ball down. As everyone stopped and watched, alert Pomeroy junior Trevin Kimble picked it up and ran uncontested into the end zone to ensure Gwinn wasn’t the only Pirate name in the scorebook.
But McNulty had the last word. “It’s probably the most physical all season,” he told the Comets, “but you just beat an undefeated team. You should be really proud of yourselves.”
• For the record, Almira-Coulee-Hartline beat Wilbur-Creston-Keller 46-16 to advance and face Naselle in the semifinal. In the other half of the bracket, No. 3-ranked Quilcene beat Winlock, 51-28 and Odessa beat Liberty Bell, 62-22. The Quilcene-Odessa semi will be at 4 p.m. Saturday. Both semis will be played at Moses Lake. Because covid delayed and cut short the 2020 season, Odessa is defending 1B champions, although ranked No. 2 by WIAA.