KALAMA — A rematch of 2019’s high-scoring, double-overtime thriller of a State semifinal lived up to its billing and then some Saturday night, as Kalama’s season-opener against Napavine turned into a matchup of two of the best 2B quarterbacks in the state, with Laythan Demarest’s Tigers getting just a couple more shots in to beat Jackson Esary’s Chinooks 49-32.
“That was a lot of fun,” Napavine coach Josh Fay said. “I don’t know how many times at this level you’re going to get to see two kids like that.”
The two quarterbacks went back and forth all night long at the expense of the defenses on the field, combining for 368 rushing yards, 286 passing yards, and nine total touchdowns.
But with defensive stops few and far between in a shootout of a first half, it was the Tigers that came up with the big plays when they needed to. A turnover on downs and a three-and-out on back-to-back Kalama possessions to start the third quarter allowed Napavine to turn a 24-22 halftime deficit into a 36-24 lead, and a 72-yard pick-six by Gavin Parker on a prayer of a pass from Esary sealed the win.
“It was a close battle,” Kalama coach Sean McDonald said. “They’re always good. They always come ready to play. They’re tough up front, they’re always tough kids. We just got outplayed tonight.”
In the end, Fay said the difference was live game experience, even though Napavine’s game experience had been a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of the defending State champs from Onalaska last week. The Tigers looked like the stronger and more conditioned team on Saturday, while Kalama was still shaking off the rust.
“I was proud of them, they battled all four quarters and they kept going,” McDonald said. “There was no quit in them, and that’s good. We were behind the ball, we knew we were going to be.”
But the difference showed itself up front, on both sides of the ball. The Tigers’ offensive line got push, and by the second half, Fay had abandoned the passing game completely. Napavine didn’t throw the ball in any of its three second-half drives, all of which ended in the end zone. But it didn’t need to.
Demarest did it all himself on Napavine’s first drive of the third quarter, lacing his way up the left side before cutting back across the field on a 73-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t give up. On the next two Tiger possessions, the Napavine front and rushing attack wore down the Chinook front with a seven-play drive and then a 14-play marathon, converting three third downs and one fourth down, all on the ground.
Napavine’s senior quarterback finished with 244 yards on 26 carries, and four rushing touchdowns. The bulk of his 75 passing yards came in the second quarter, on a 57-yard touchdown up the seam to tight end Cade Evander.
“He’s so elusive,” McDonald said. “There was one play when they were marching down where he faked me out with the counter. He’s just a very elusive quarterback. It’s our second year of playing them, and he was doing what he was doing last year.”
Meanwhile, the Napavine front was doing the same thing on the defensive side of the ball, with a near-permanent presence in the Kalama backfield.
That left the the Chinooks’ offensive fate squarely on their junior quarterbacks’ shoulders. Aside from Esary, Kalama gained a grand total of one rushing yard. With the exception of two Brady O’Neil rushes in the first half — one went for a 1-yard loss, and one went for a 2-yard gain — every single play from scrimmage ended up in Esary’s hands, either as a runner or as a passer.
And despite the Tigers pretty much being able to tee off on Esary, the junior shined in his first action in 15 months.
On Kalama’s first possession of the game, Esary went 3-for-5 for 65 yards through the air to set the Chinooks inside the 10-yard line. Then he bashed it in himself on a 6-yard sweep to the left, before adding the two-point conversion on a pass.
That was pretty much how the game went for the Kalama offense. With the Tigers getting through the offensive line easily, the Chinooks had to get Esary out of the pocket fast, either rolling him out or letting him take off upfield immediately.
More often than not early, it worked for them. Midway through the second quarter, on third-and-long, Esary rolled right but didn’t have any time to look downfield. He immediately tucked the ball down and kept running to his right, ran past three would-be-sackers in the backfield, cut back, broke an arm-tackle at the line of scrimmage, and then outran the entire Napavine defense for a 61-yard score to make it 16-14 Chinooks.
With under three minutes left in the first half after a Napavine touchdown, Esary led a 10-play drive, converting one third down with a 23-yard dash and a second with an 18-yard touchdown strike to Jack Doerty to put Kalama back ahead 28 seconds before intermission.
And late in the third quarter, after the Tigers went up by 12, the junior punched back immediately. The first play of the drive was a 9-yard pass to Doerty, who finished with seven catches for 83 yards. The second was a 30-yard bomb down the sideline to Max Cox, and the third was a 17-yard draw up the middle.
“He’s what we thought he was going to be,” McDonald said. “He’s got the arm strength and he’s got the capability to take games over on his own. We just have to get him some more protection and working with that.”
Esary finished with 211 yards on 18-of-33 passing, and added 124 yards on the ground. But as the game wore on, the Napavine pressure started to land more and more. The Tigers racked up three sacks in the second half, and on third-and-8 late in the fourth with Napavine up 42-32, Esary was swallowed up by a host of white jerseys. He managed to get his arm free and backhand-hucked the ball up, hoping to throw the ball away and avoid the sack, but it instead got tipped into the hands of Parker, who took it to the house to seal the win.
“I’m a firm believer that whatever happens up front is going to decide the game, and they definitely beat us in that aspect of the game tonight,” McDonald said.