LACEY - It didn't matter which offensive weapon North Thurston used, Clover Park didn't have an answer.
And it didn't matter if it was in the air or on the ground, the Rams' long drives - not the big plays - made the difference Friday night.
North Thurston's first four offensive possessions, which averaged more than nine plays, resulted in touchdowns on the Rams' way to a 48-26 win over Clover Park at South Sound Stadium. The game was each team's Western Cascade Conference opener.
"We had nice little drives, and those are important for us," Rams coach Rocky Patchin said. "We want to be able to sustain drives. I was really proud of the offense."
One of the Rams' offensive weapons who had a big breakthrough game was junior running back Taylor Warner, who racked up a career-high 145 yards and scored the Rams' first two touchdowns - a 16-yard run and 31-yard catch. Warner was able to find holes left and right through the Warriors' defense, often times dragging two or three defenders for an extra few yards.
"I'm really excited," Warner said about his career night. "It was all the linemen blocking holes. The holes were huge. Anyone could have run through them.
"Whatever was open we did it," Warner said. "We wanted to make them guess and that's what happened."
Warner's two scores, combined with fellow running back Zarak Simmons' 2-yard TD run with 28 seconds left in the first, gave North Thurston (3-0 overall, 1-0 WCC) an early 21-7 lead. The Rams shut down Clover Park's offense on its first three possessions, not allowing the Warriors to advance to past its own 39-yard line.
"Our offense had a tough time, but our kids hung tough," Clover Park coach Jon Randall said. "They played with Warrior heart and started putting some things together."
Clover Park (1-2 overall, 0-1 WCC) had two big touchdown plays from special teams. The first came from Steadman Riley's 60-yard run, following by a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter. In the third, on an ensuing kickoff after North Thurston's touchdown opened the second half, Clover Park running back Travis Brooks returned the kick 85 yards for the score.
North Thurston led 28-14 at halftime, thanks to a 12-play drive that ended in a Simmons 4-yard touchdown run. Simmons would add another TD with 5:30 left in third quarter.
Clover Park freshman quarterback Ionatana Pritchard, who was sacked three times, threw an interception to Simmons, who ran in for the 7-yard score. It was a bit of redemption for Simmons, who fumbled on the previous play, at first-and-goal at the Warriors' 5-yard line.
It was the second time in the game the Rams turned the ball over inside the goal line. Rams quarterback Joe Hussey threw for 85 yards and two touchdowns - one each to Warner and Simmons. The Ram's final score came courtesy of Will Sharp's 12-yard run, but not before Brett Roberson's 64-yard ensuing kickoff return started the Rams' drive well inside Clover Park territory.
Despite his team giving up 285 yards of total offense to Clover Park, Patchin said his team's defense will learn and continue to improve. The Warriors' 26 points are the most North Thurston has allowed this season. The Rams gave up one touchdown to Centralia in their season opener and held River Ridge scoreless in a 31-0 win last week.
"We have a bunch of young guys on defense, and they're learning," said Patchin, whose team racked up 445 yards of total offense. "They're getting better, and we'll continue to get better."