The Franklin Pierce High School football team was plenty happy to play spoiler to River Ridge — again.
With five seconds remaining, Cardinals quarterback Willie Patterson dropped back and hurled a pass toward the end zone. Mason Starling turned and jumped at the goal line, and fell to the ground clutching the 36-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
“As soon as I saw it was in the end zone, I was just thinking in my head, ‘All I have to do is make the catch and we win the game,’ ” Starling said. “I trust our kicker.”
Starling’s grab tied the game at 27-27.
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Two penalties stalled the extra-point attempt, and Franklin Pierce kicker Cameron Bowdish — perfect on attempts to that point — crouched down to wait.
“When I practice, I can hit 45 (yards), but when it comes down to the game, my nerves get to me,” Bowdish said. “But my teammates were there for me, so I’ve got to be there for them.”
Bowdish nailed the 34-yard extra-point attempt, sending the Franklin Pierce sideline into a frenzy as the No. 10 Cardinals stunned No. 3 River Ridge, 28-27, on Friday night at South Sound Stadium.
Franklin Pierce (8-1, 8-0 2A SPSL) put up 14 points in the final quarter, and held the Hawks (7-1, 6-1) scoreless to wrap up the Class 2A South Puget Sound League title.
“We really wanted this title,” Franklin Pierce coach Mickey Ahrens said. “We talked a lot about it this week. Our guys wanted it, and they never gave up.”
The Cardinals — the only 2A SPSL team to ever beat River Ridge — handed the Hawks their first loss of the season, snapping a league winning streak that spanned more than two years and 19 games.
“If we play 10 times, one of us is going to win five, the other is going to win five,” Ahrens said. “We both have athletes.”
River Ridge coach Steve Schultz mentioned earlier in the week that he thought this game would be a show, and it didn’t disappoint.
Franklin Pierce — which was held to 108 total offensive yards in the first half — had 420 offensive yards by the end. River Ridge finished with 357.
“Well,” Schultz managed, “that team knows how to put points on the board. They don’t give up. They’ve got great athletes and congratulations to them. They earned it at the end.”
Patterson finished 8 of 21 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns. His first TD, a 22-yard pass to a wide-open Alex Bing, gave Franklin Pierce an early 7-0 lead.
But that was the only time the Cardinals scored in the first half. River Ridge reeled off three consecutive touchdowns to enter the break up, 21-7.
Kelle Sanders found Josh Braverman for a 32-yard touchdown on the following drive.
Then, Stephen Flanagan picked off Patterson, setting up a trick play that led to another Hawks touchdown. Trey Dorfner took a pitch from Sanders, and sailed a 22-yard pass to Ryan Blash.
Dorfner added another 4-yard touchdown run after the Hawks forced a three-and-out on Franklin Pierce’s next drive.
The Cardinals immediately answered out of the break. Stoney Shafer broke through defenders, and scurried for a 63-yard score to cut the lead to 21-14.
Short-lived. Blash returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to, again, give the Hawks a two-score advantage. But the extra point failed.
A wild third quarter ended with possession changing hands five times in the final six minutes — four times on turnovers.
“They did a great job in the second half,” Schultz said of Franklin Pierce. “It was pretty much a defensive struggle back and forth.”
Then, the fireworks came.
“We’d get them, and get them, and then they’d have a big play,” Schultz said. “To those guys, third-and-23 doesn’t mean anything. They’ve got another two plays to score a touchdown.”
Scottland Vise capped a short Franklin Pierce drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to bring the Cardinals within six.
River Ridge punted twice on its final two possessions, giving the Cardinals the ball back with 17 seconds to play.
Starling caught a 38-yard pass from Patterson to set up the Cardinals at River Ridge’s 36. He caught the game-tying touchdown pass two plays later.
“These are memories that you’ll tell your kids years and years from now,” Starling said.
The Cardinals take the league’s No. 1 seed out of the 2A SPSL into next week’s district playoffs. They’ll host Bremerton (5-4) in the first round.
River Ridge, the No. 2 seed, will host Lindbergh (5-4).
No. 10 Franklin Pierce
No. 3 River Ridge
FP – Alex Bing 22 pass from Willie Patterson (Cameron Bowdish kick)
RR – Josh Braverman 32 pass from Kelle Sanders (Matt O’Leary kick)
RR – Ryan Blash 22 pass from Trey Dorfner (O’Leary kick)
RR – Dorfner 4 run (O’Leary kick)
FP – Stoney Shafer 68 run (Bowdish kick)
RR – Blash 83 kickoff return (kick failed)
FP – Scottland Vise 3 run (Bowdish kick)
FP – Mason Starling 36 pass from Patterson (Bowdish kick)