But in the end, it was all about the Bearcats’ defense.
With 29 seconds remaining in the game, junior linebacker Nolan Lininger blitzed through North Thurston’s offensive line to sack quarterback Jake Klumker on third-and-10 at Chehalis’ 37-yard line. That 6-yard loss was too much to overcome as Klumker – pressured again on fourth down – found Matthew Reid for just a short gain to turn the ball over on downs.
The Bearcats were able to run out the clock and preserve a 14-7 non-league win in the season opener for both schools Friday night at South Sound Stadium.
“We felt like we had to take our chances,” Chehalis coach Bob Wollan said. “We tried several stunts and finally got one for a big loss there.”
It was far from the only big defensive stop by the Bearcats. Senior defensive back Colton Schoelkopf intercepted Klumker twice during the second quarter. The first one came as Rams had driven down to the Chehalis 19.
That was as close as North Thurston, which had 105 yards of total offense at halftime, came to scoring during the first two quarters.
The Bearcats looked strong almost from the opening kickoff. After senior Ben Ternan’s first pass was deflected, he drove Chehalis 80 yards in 11 plays. He twice connected with wide receiver Erik Forgione, who had eight receptions for 89 yards, and threw his only touchdown pass with an 11-yard completion to sophomore Mitch Gueller.
“I thought Ben had a really nice game for the first time out,” Wollan said of his quarterback, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 149 yards.
But on the Bearcats’ three ensuing drives, they were stopped at the North Thurston 23, 7 and 25, respectively. The first two possessions ended with missed field goals.
“We have to be better in the red zone,” Wollan said. “There was no doubt in my mind, when we missed those opportunities in the first half that, Thurston was going to come out and push us.”
Chehalis’ only scoring drives came on the first possession of each half. Junior Brennan Casteel capped a 10-play drive with a 22-yard touchdown run up the middle to give the Bearcats a 14-0 lead with 7:06 minutes left in the third period.
But the Rams responded with their own long touchdown drive on their ensuing possession. Junior Lawyer Tillman scored on an 8-yard carry with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
North Thurston had an opportunity on its next possession when it advanced to the Chehalis 29, but Klumker threw four straight incomplete passes. Despite that, Wollan was impressed by the opposing quarterback.
“Their quarterback is very athletic, and I think he’s going to be super this year,” he said.
The Rams’ next game will be another non-league game, with kickoff at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 against crosstown rival River Ridge at South Sound Stadium.