This is the first time since coach Jason Ronquillo arrived at Yelm High School that the Tornados have tamed the Tides.
Each meeting between Yelm and Gig Harbor his first four years ended in a loss. That losing streak ended, in thrilling fashion, Friday night in Yelm.
“It’s a proud moment for the boys,” Ronquillo said. “It took all three phases to win the game.”
With less than four minutes to play, Yelm senior James Palmer leapt into the air, and picked off Gig Harbor quarterback Nick Yockey on a pass that could have given the Tides the go-ahead touchdown.
Palmer carried the ball three times on the following drive, helping the Tornados pick up two crucial first downs, and Yelm survived the Tides, 21-17.
“This is a great moment,” Palmer said. “I can’t even explain it.”
It’s an exciting tale that begins at Yelm’s 1-yard line.
Following a goal-line stand late in the first quarter, the Tornados drove the length of the field, taking an early lead when junior quarterback Kyle Robinson found senior Alex Morris behind a defender on the left sideline for a 32-yard score.
Gig Harbor answered on the following drive with a 32-yard field goal by Logan Kinney, but managed just 116 yards of offense in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, the Tides brought in Yockey, who gave them their first lead on a 38-yard touchdown pass to junior Ryan King, who hauled in the pass in the end zone surrounded by defenders.
Yelm answered less than two minutes later. A long kickoff return set up the Tornados at Gig Harbor’s 37.
Robinson found sophomore Sylas Franklin on third-and-11, and Palmer punched in a 6-yard touchdown on the next play.
Palmer finished with 21 carries for 85 yards and the one touchdown.
The Tides took the lead for the final time after an interception and face mask penalty against Yelm gave them short field at the Tornados’ 14.
Senior running back Jesse Valona carried the ball on two consecutive plays, including an 8-yard touchdown scamper.
Valona led the Tides in rushing with 17 carries for 107 yards. Yockey was 7 of 13 passing for 115 yards with the one touchdown and one interception.
King had two catches for 67 yards and the one touchdown.
Robinson led Yelm on its game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter. His 34-yard pass to junior Austin Osso on third-and-25 saved a drive that could have ended near midfield.
Robinson eventually punched in a 3-yard quarterback keeper to give the Tornados (4-1, 2-0 Class 3A South Sound Conference) the final edge.
Despite some early drops and two interceptions, Robinson finished 9 of 23 passing for 209 yards and two total touchdowns.
He has passed for more than 900 yards the first four weeks, and completed 56.4 percent of his passes.
“He’s a great manager out there,” Ronquillo said. “He had some fabulous passes that were dropped … that should have been caught to get us into a rhythm.
“He stayed cool, calm and collected when we needed him to. That’s what we love about him.”
The following drive was Gig Harbor’s last, and ended with Palmer’s interception.
Robinson picked up a first down on two short plunges, including a conversion on fourth-and-1, forcing the Tides (1-3, 0-2 3A SSC) to take their final timeout.
Two plays later, Palmer ripped up the middle for a 14-yard gain to seal the win.
“I’ve been playing on this team for three years now, and finally getting to beat Gig Harbor is really awesome to me,” Robinson said. “Everybody’s excited, it’s just a great feeling.”
Gig Harbor 0 3 7 7_17
Yelm 0 7 7 7_21
Y – Alex Morris 32 pass from Kyle Robinson (Cody Frye kick)
GH – Logan Kinney 32 field goal
GH – Ryan King 38 pass from Nick Yockey (Logan Kinney kick)
Y – James Palmer 6 run (Frye kick)
GH – Jesse Valona 8 run (Kinney kick)
Y – Robinson 3 run (Frye kick)