ILWACO — All evening long, Sean Cease preached to his Ilwaco players that he needed four good plays in a row. The stops were there for his defense all night long against Stevenson, but as the first half bled into the second, and then wound down into a 6-6 deadlock after four quarters, the Fishermen needed four more good plays to win Friday.
As it turned out, two overtimes weren’t enough. But in the third extra period, with the ball spotted on the 10-yard line for first-and-goal, his message was made even more obvious: four plays on defense, followed by four good plays on offense.
The defense, like it had done again and again nearly all night long, did its part by setting up the offense. As it turned out, Cease had been wrong the whole time:
The Fishermen only needed three plays.
Two short gains worked the ball down to the 3-yard line, and set up running back Dylan Simonson, who punched it in on third-and-goal to finally, finally seal a 12-6 Ilwaco win, and seal the deal on an instant classic high school football game.
“We’ve got some sore bodies,” Cease said. “But they were pretty happy at the end of the game.”
It was a game that featured nearly as little scoring as possible, two stops on the 1-yard line in overtime, and plenty of missed opportunities, But it featured one constant: a shutdown effort by the Ilwaco defense for nearly all 60 minutes — plus three extra overtime periods.
The performance was made even more impressive by the fact that Cease and the Fishermen needed to revamp their game plan to deal with a pass-happy Stevenson offense, and they needed do so on three days’ rest after their season-opening loss to Raymond-South Bend on Monday.
“We put some simple things in this week, and they understood it, stuff we had done before,” Cease said. “The older guys were confident in it, and I think the younger guys realized that the older guys knew what was going on with the gameplan. I think that’s why it worked.”
While the defense shined, the offense struggled. Simonson got the Fishermen on the board with their lone touchdown in regulation in the second quarter, but that would be all for the noise they’d make for the first 48 minutes.
Cease said the problem wasn’t moving the football; the Fishermen did that easily. But every time Ilwaco got into Stevenson territory and the red zone, the offense seemed to hit a wall.
In the third quarter, a holding penalty wiped out a 40-yard gain on a counter play that would have set the Fishermen up. In the fourth quarter, a possible game-winning touchdown pass bounced off the hands of its intended recipient. In the first overtime, Ilwaco forced a turnover on downs, but gave the ball right back with an interception.
In the second overtime period, the Fishermen got the ball all the way to the Stevenson 1-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in on fourth-and-goal.
“Looking back, we probably should have tried the field goal,” Cease said. “That’s not automatic for us either, but that would have been a game-winner. Fortunately, we were able to hold on defense.”
The lockdown defensive effort made it easier for the Fishermen to keep their heads on offense after coming oh-so-close so many times, but Cease was still impressed with how his team handled the close game. Against RSB, Ilwaco lost the lead late — giving up 18 points in the final minutes — and lost its heads at the same time with one player winding up ejected.
Against Stevenson, Cease said his players stayed in it and stayed together.
“The first week, we kind of panicked, we started pointing fingers, and we were finding a scapegoat for why things weren’t working, blaming things on the officials and things like that, which is never good,” Cease said. “The biggest thing this week is we just stayed positive. Anytime I heard somebody chirping up about the officiating, someone else got on their case about it. It wasn’t something we were going to worry about, we were going to do the best we could. I told them before the game, this is about us. Whatever we do is what’s important.”
And Friday, what the Fishermen did was buckle down the hardest when they needed it most. Come the third overtime, Stevenson had its best chance by far to make a dent in the scoreboard since way back in the second quarter, and started its drive off promisingly, getting all the way down to the 2-yard line on its first play.
With their backs to the goal line the Fishermen needed three stops and, with the help of some Bulldog snap issues, they got them. On fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, Mikey Rodda led a host of Ilwaco defenders to stop the ballcarrier short, giving the offense the ball back for its final chance.
Over three-and-a-half hours after kickoff, Simonson found paydirt, giving the Fishermen the most memorable first win possible in the most memorable season.
“I made a comment when the game got done to the other team’s coach like, ‘Well, we only get to play football for so long, I guess we’ll play three games here in one night,’“ Cease said, laughing.
Ilwaco (1-1), which has played eight quarters plus three overtimes in four days, now gets a week before its next game, at North Beach on Feb. 26.