LACEY – In a hard-hitting game against an unbeaten opponent Friday at South Sound Stadium, Tumwater was special on special teams.
The Thunderbirds rode two kicking-game touchdowns to their fifth straight win, 28-12, over North Thurston, which lost for the first time this season.
In a non-league game that both coaches saw as a gauge of their teams’ progress heading down the stretch, Tumwater scored on a punt return and a blocked punt, and the Thunderbirds’ sure-tackling defense made yardage hard to come by for North Thurston’s fleet of running backs.
“From Game 1 (a loss to Shelton) to Game 6, it’s 100 percent improvement,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said. “We beat a really good football team tonight.”
North Thurston moved the ball in spurts but never claimed the line of scrimmage for its running attack.
“Their defense has a lot to say about that,” North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin said.
“I thought our kids played well at times. The difference in the game was the kicking game, obviously.”
After a promising North Thurston drive fizzled near midfield late in the first half, David Durden blocked the Rams backup punter’s kick. The ball fell into the hands of the T-Birds’ Trevor Davis with nothing but green in front of him. His 38-yard return gave Tumwater a 14-6 halftime lead.
Special teams and the special talent of Andrew Brown got the T-Birds another kicking-game touchdown early in the second half. Tumwater stalled the Rams in their own end, forcing a punt. Brown fielded the kick on a bounce, sidestepped the nearest defender, found space along the left sideline and made the last defender miss on the way to a 78-yard TD.
Earlier, Tumwater took the game’s opening kickoff and drove 61 yards in 11 plays, with 6-foot-2, 255-pound defender Jaimie Bryant lining up at fullback from the 2 and packing it into the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, Brandon Belisario broke free around left end and appeared to have scored a 27-yard touchdown, but an official detected that Belisario stepped out of bounds inside the 4. Two plays later, Hayden Maliska took it in from a yard out as the Rams made it 7-6.
North Thurston got it to 21-12 late in the third quarter. Rams wide receiver Tru Hicks was the ballcarrier for a 12-yard gain on the first play of a nine-snap, 64-yard drive that ended on a 10-yard scoring pass from Ryan Mets to Hicks. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
The Rams’ momentum didn’t last. A 28-yard keeper by Tumwater quarterback Jayden Croft got the ball to the Ram 30, and three plays later Croft threw a 26-yard strike to Brown in the end zone.