Kalama needed this one.
So what that the Chinooks were coming off a state championship season that featured a 1-2 start a year ago? So what that the Chinooks have made a habit of beating a team in November that it fell to in September?
So what that the Chinooks themselves would’ve told you that winning on Friday wasn’t super necessary?
It still was. Kalama played like it against the visiting Adna Pirates on Friday night, racing out to a 21-7 halftime lead and doing enough in the second half to claim a 27-14 win to reclaim its confidence and swagger.
“We need that win more than anything,” sophomore quarterback Jackson Esary said. “Kill that losing streak, go on winning. We lost to them last year (27-7), so it felt good to get the win. We gotta clean up a lot, but we played good, well-rounded.”
It was also a night where Jackson Esary backed up his Week 2 performance with another dazzling night, this time with his feet.
Yes, he rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and threw for another 261 and two more touchdowns, but the Chinooks lost, so the numbers come with a bitter taste.
Friday night, against another good defense, Esary was everywhere.
Kalama, with its vaunted receiver corps including the always-dangerous Brennon Vance, figured out in the second quarter that Adna was manning up on the Kalama receivers and often sending two guys at Vance.
This opened up the middle of the field and the flats for Esary to work, and boy, did he.
The sophomore rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns, using power and grace to break tackles and make would-be Pirate defenders miss.
He showed the 2B ranks will have to deal with him for the remainder of this year and two more, and won’t be happy about it.
“He’s gonna be a stud,” Kalama coach Sean McDonald said. “We knew it. He’s all the tools. He’s just gonna take some games to get the kinks out. And the reps. You just gotta get reps to see everything a couple times and really start getting in that rhythm. I think we’re seeing it.”
And he did it largely without his safety valve, Vance.
The Pirates did a really good job of taking him out of the game and making someone else beat them. It’s just that someone else did.
Vance rushed for just 25 yards on 13 carries and caught just two passes for 12 yards. He made up for it in other areas, playing a sound safety and returned three punts for 28 yards, each of which gave Kalama good field position.
But the first two times didn’t really help.
Kalama forced three-and-outs on the first four Adna drives and started all four at midfield or better.
But Adna came up with stops.
Kalama got to the Adna 19 in its first drive, but Esary took a sack on 4th and 14 to give the ball back. Kalama got to the Adna 36 after the second punt, but Esary couldn’t break enough tackles in a rather long scramble and fell seven yards short of the line to gain, once again handing the ball back to Adna.
But the defense was stout enough none of that mattered. The Pirates had just 13 yards after their first four drives, and eventually the Chinook offense found pay dirt.
But it didn’t come until the second quarter, and its spark came from a somewhat unlikely source.
At the first quarter buzzer, which was also the first play of Kalama’s third possession, Elijah Haynes broke free for a 29-yard run, busting into Adna territory for the first explosive play of the night.
Just four plays later, Esary broke a tackle at the 8 yard line and stumbled into the end zone for his first score for a 7-0 lead.
“We have those crossing routes, we have a lot going on,” Esary said. “The pocket was nice. Our line did a great job today. Those short routes across the middle did really good. We got good gains out of those short routes.”
After Adna’s fourth three-and-out, Esary pulled a wild one out of his bag of tricks.
With the Kalama receivers way downfield and the Adna secondary minding them, Esary looked to his left to pass, found nothing, them came back to his right and found nothing but running room.
He broke a tackle at the 15-yard line and was tackled into the end zone. It was a 41-yard scoring run and Kalama had a 14-0 lead and all the momentum.
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Adna then had its first sustained drive of the night.
Braden Thomas, Adna’s smooth-passing and athletic-running quarterback, did most of the damage, as Pirates running back Cole Fay was totally neutralized in the first half.
On 3rd and 18 from the Kalama 35, Thomas heaved one to Ryan Young who somehow came down with it despite two Kalama defenders right there for a 35-yard gain, then Thomas ran in a 5-yard touchdown on the next play.
“We tried to just stick to the basics (defensively) tonight because I just wanted to get better at the basics and know our jobs,” McDonald said. “We did well with it. We’re still learning as a defensive line and our linebacking crew, so it’s just gonna take time.”
But Kalama came right back.
Esary hit Bradey O’Neil for a 19-yard gain on second down, ran for 36 yards on another scramble with the Adna defense abandoning his legs while worried about his arm, then the sophomore ran in his third score on a clever fake screen play that was a designed run. It was 21-7 at the half and Kalama was feeling good about itself.
Thomas, though, left the game right at the end of the second quarter and Zach Berg took the snaps in the second half. That meant Adna would stop throwing and start running. And Fay finally got going.
Of his 43 yards on the ground, 41 came after halftime. He also caught an inside screen pass from Berg for a 37-yard score in the fourth quarter, but Kalama had already added some insurance.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Esary had an absolutely magical run that saw him dead to rights at least three times and wiggle out of it every time. But his weaving around the field is tough to block, and the play got called back on a block in the back penalty, negating a run that had the Kalama PA announcer speechless.
O’Neil took a handoff on the next play, got to the corner, and was gone for an 80-yard touchdown.
“IN the huddle, we just keep our mentality, keep a winning mentality, keep a good mind state and don’t get down on each other,” Esary said. “Just keep working and try to get that first down and it breaks for an 80-yard touchdown.”
Kalama visits La Center next week at 7 p.m. before starting league play by hosting the upstart Winlock Cardinals to begin October.
Chinooks 27, Pirates 14
Adna; 0; 7; 0; 7; 14;
Kalama; 0; 21; 6; 0; 27;
K: Jackson Esary 10 run (Nate Anderson kick)
K: Esary 41 run (Anderson kick)
A: Braden Thomas 5 run (Thomas kick)
K: Esary 1 run (Anderson kick)
K: Bradey O’Neil 80 run (pass failed)
A: Cole Fay 37 pass from Zach Berg (Rodolfo Rodriguez kick)
RUSHING — A: Cole Fay 11-43, Braden Thomas 10-20, Ryan Young 2-29, Zach Berg 7-19, Zander Blankenship-Todd 1-4. K: Jackson Esary 14-98, Bradey O’Neil 5-95, Elijah Haynes 5-47, Brennon Vance 13-25.
PASSING — A: Braden Thomas 4-8-0, 41. Zach Berg 3-6-1, 51. K: Jackson Esary 6-13, 59.
RECEIVING — A: Cole Fay 3-43, Ryan Young 2-45, Zach Berg 2-1. K: Max Cox 2-28, Bradey O’Neil 1-19, Nate Anderson 1-19, Brennon Vance 2-12.