SHELTON – Two teams, two running plays achingly close to the goal line, two fumbles into the end zone.
The difference: North Thurston overcame its early failure. Shelton could not come back from its late-game fumble – which cost the Highclimbers a go-ahead touchdown and their only points of the second half.
The result was a 21-20 Rams victory and Shelton’s first loss of the season in an important Narrows League 3A game Friday night at Highclimber Stadium.
Ralph Kinne, the state’s leading rusher, took a handoff at the North Thurston 10 with 2:30 left in the game and dragged a tackler most of the way to the goal. He appeared to have broken the plane of the goal line with the ball but was ruled to have lost control of the ball just short of the stripe.
Fumble, and game over, as the Rams were able to peel off three first downs to run out the clock.
Kinne carried 33 times for 189 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown but didn’t get the yard that might have won the game.
“It’s irrelevant,” said Shelton coach Matt Hinkle, who refused to speculate about the goal-line play. “There were other things we should have done better.
“I hope we learn from the mistakes we made. North Thurston is a fine team, and it was a good football game that came down to the end.”
North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin saw his defense come up big not only on that crucial play, but also on a fourth-down stop inside the Rams 10 on a long Highclimbers drive after the second-half kickoff took up most of the third period.
“Two warrior teams,” Patchin said. “Our defense came up with some tremendous plays.”
In the first half, North Thurston (6-1, 4-0 Narrows) and host Shelton (6-1, 3-1) combined for 41 points, five turnovers and 100 yards in penalties.
In the second half, two teams adept at running the football got down to business, but it was the defenses that carried the day.
North Thurston led 21-20 at the end of an entertaining if erratic first half. The Rams got rushing touchdowns of 7 yards and 1 yard from Maurice Manning and an 11-yard scoring run from Bobby Cervantes.
The Rams came achingly close to another score after a 78-yard drive with the opening kickoff of the second half, the biggest gainer of which was a 15-yard run by Ande Grantham. But it was Grantham, after running for 13 yards, who fumbled at the Shelton 2, and the Highclimbers recovered in the end zone.
Deshon Bell scored Shelton touchdowns on plays of 60 and 7 yards.
And there was the usual Kinne highlight reel. He had 90 yards in the first half, including his 64-yard TD burst.
North Thurston rushed for 286 yards in the game, led by Manning’s 21 carries for 101 yards.