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Kalama 16, Napavine 14

Esary, defense leads Kalama to 2B state title over Napavine

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LAKEWOOD — Jackson Esary had worked, bled, and sweated for three years since Kalama won a trophy his freshmen year. He’d charged headlong into game after game and defender after defender, nearly seen it all derailed by injury, and almost found himself foiled in a defensive slog of a final game.

Saturday night, he decided he couldn’t wait any longer.

After the third and final kneel-down clinched the Kalama football team’s 16-14 win over Napavine in the 2B State title game, after the postgame handshakes, after his team had congregated on the field, facing the throngs of Chinook faithful who’d braved the traffic north, he’d had enough of patience. As soon as the championship trophy emerged, the senior sprinted over to the track, wrested it away from its unsuspecting bearer, and lifted it sky-high before any official presentation could be announced.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for that,” he said.

Esary capped off his legendary career in black and orange with one last win on the biggest of stages at Harry E. Lang, throwing for 216 yards and a touchdown on 18-for-26 passing on a shoulder with an injured AC joint suffered in the Chinooks’ semifinal win over Onalaska one week prior.

“It hurt like hell, but it wasn’t gonna stop me from winning this game,” he said.

Constant pressure in the backfield forced loss after loss from the line of scrimmage. As a result, he finished with only 13 rushing yards on 24 carries, but with just over two minutes remaining in the game one fateful quarterback power call tied the game up at 14-14. On the next play another keeper gave the Chinooks the go-ahead two-point conversion as the game neared its death.

“He’s just tough as nails,” Kalama coach Sean McDonald. “His shoulder was messed up in the Onalaska game, the kid didn’t throw all week, and he came out and he still won us a State championship.

“That kind of says it right there. He still played defense, made a lot of plays there. Just tough as nails. We have a lot of tough kids on this team, but he’s right there at the top.”

The title sends Esary and the 17 other Kalama seniors out on top of the mountain clutching the program’s third title in the past four postseasons, and the fourth in its history.

After winning it all as freshmen, the 2022 senior class finished runners-up to Onalaska in 2019, and saw COVID-19 cancel the playoffs entirely during their junior season before getting the one last shot this fall.

“It feels great,” Kalama receiver and defensive back Max Cox said. “We’ve been playing with each other since elementary school. To end it on a title, it’s amazing.”

After Napavine went ahead 14-6 early in the fourth quarter, Kalama took the ball in its own territory needing points in the worst way. But with Esary’s shoulder all but eliminating the deep ball, and Napavine’s defensive twists and stunts up front wreaking havoc all night, the Chinooks had to switch up from their normal explosive scoring plays to more methodical drives.

Nine Chinooks plays worked the ball all the way down to the 2-yard line — Kalama’s first time in the red zone all game — but the Tigers stood their ground on fourth down, forcing an incomplete pass to keep the lead and take momentum back.

One play later, that momentum was back on the Kalama sideline.

“I walk out and I look at Jackson and I look him dead in the eyes and I say ‘I got this,’” Kalama running back and linebacker Bradey O’Neil said.

Backed up to its own end zone, Napavine gave the ball to Gavin Parker, its 1,500-yard rusher. But as they did all game, the Chinooks held strong up the middle and O’Neil went right up the gut alongside senior lineman Preston Armstrong to meet Parker a yard deep in the end zone and combined on a tackle that netted a game-changing safety.

“I always say I’m always money in the clutch, so I guess I had to show out,” O’Neil said,

The stop gave the Chinooks the ball back, but now they had to finish what they started by taking the lead. Taking over around midfield, two incompletions put Kalama at third-and-10, but Esary hit Max Cox to move the chains. A false start and two plays later, the Chinooks faced third-and-12, and for what seemed like the 20th time, the Tigers flushed Esary out of the pocket. Twisting and turning after bootlegging to the left sideline, the senior star flipped his hips, looked back, and saw O’Neil standing all alone on the backside.

“Lo and behold, Bradey was sitting on the numbers, wide open, swinging his arms,” Esary said. “I gave it everything I got and threw it over there.”

The 33-yard loft — O’Neil’s fourth catch out of the backfield of the game — set the Chinooks right back up inside the 5-yard line. From there, Esary wasn’t going to let the ball out of his hands again.

“I ran over to (offensive coordinator) Brandon (Walker) and said ‘Give me the ball.’ And we did it,” he said.

A 3-yard power play tied the game up at 14-14 with 2:53 left in the game, and another rushing score on the two-point conversion put the Chinooks ahead for good.

It was a frenetic end to a game that had been, up to that point, almost entirely about two stalwart defenses ruling the night.

Ten months ago, the Tigers beat the Chinooks to open the winter season in a game in which Kalama couldn’t buy a stop on defense. Fast forward to Friday, and Kalama’s front held Parker to 1.7 yards per carry, forced three turnovers, and held a Napavine side that came in averaging over 50 points per game to just 14, only half of which came on offense.

“It was just toughness,” McDonald said. “Just having dudes that bought into the gameplan, knew their job, and did their job. We’re a bend-not-break defense, and if everybody buys and does what they need to do, we’ll come out on top.”

Cody Snyder, Gino Santi, Seth Hoseney, Preston Arrmstrong, and O’Neil led the charge up the middle to contain the Tigers to just 145 rushing yards. And when Napavine had to throw the ball downfield, Max Cox cleaned up to the tune of three interceptions — two in the end zone and one more to seal the game away after the Chinooks went ahead.

“If I see the ball in the air, I’m gonna go get it and make a play for my team,” Cox said.

On the other side, the Tigers were doing just as much to befuddle a banged up Esary and the rest of the Kalama offense. After a scoreless first quarter, Napavine opened the scoring on a wild play when the Tigers jumped a quick screen in the Kalama end zone for a return-less pick-six.

Kalama managed to get back into the game on an 11-play three-minute drill, with Esary hitting Meyer for a 21-yard touchdown with just two seconds left on the clock before halftime.

Meyer finished with a team-high 99 receiving yards on six catches. Cox and Doerty added three catches apiece.

O’Neil turned in 25 rushing yards on six carries, and would have had much more if not for a couple big plays wiped out by untimely holding calls.

Now all of them — O’Neil, Esary, Cox, Meyer, and the 14 other seniors — have earned a new addition to the wooden sign welcoming visitors to Kalama. It’ll be rough-hewn, with every little detail ground and chiseled out. Just like their final game.

“That’s just the senior class right there,” McDonald said. “They don’t have quit in them. They just kept coming back, even with all the penalties we had and all the misplays. It was an ugly game, but we were not gonna lose.”

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