All the stars seemed to be aligning for the Loggers football team to finally snag its first victory of the season, but they ultimately lost 40-34 in heartbreaking fashion to the Whitworth Pirates on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Cheney Stadium.
Playing their season finale in front of one of the largest crowds of the season, this would have been a perfect time for the team to salvage something positive from a lost season. The game began with promise, as freshman quarterback Braden Foley (Bothell, Wash.) gave the large crowd something to cheer about by leading the Logger offense on a 12-play, 62-yard scoring drive that culminated with a four-yard strike to senior Adam Kniffin (Salem, Ore.).
After a Pirate touchdown near the end of the first quarter tied the game at seven, the Loggers’ offense marched back down the field on the very next drive. This possession ultimately ended with another Logger touchdown on a one-yard run by sophomore Kupono Park (Waimanalo, Hawaii) that put the Loggers back on top. The game continued to seesaw back and forth for the rest of the first half as both offenses dominated.
The Pirates scored two more touchdowns to one more by the Loggers, and the first half ended with Whitworth clinging to a 21-20 lead off of a missed extra point by Logger freshman Everett West (Anaheim, Calif.).
The Loggers needed a defensive stand in the second half, and they got exactly that on the very first play from scrimmage. Senior linebacker Tyler Vlasak (Sumner, Wash.) stepped in front of a Whitworth pass at midfield, intercepting it and setting the Loggers up with a great chance to take control of the game. The Loggers were able to take advantage, as Foley hit junior wide receiver Miles McDonald (Vancouver, Wash.) for a 35-yard touchdown pass that gave the Loggers the lead back.
The defense wasn’t able to hold Whitworth in check, however, as the Pirates took a 28-27 lead on a four-yard run by Sean Scott. The Loggers responded again, however, as they set out on an eight-play, 57-yard drive that ended with another touchdown pass. This score put the Loggers on top 34-28 as the third quarter expired.
For the first time all season, the Loggers held a lead in the fourth quarter. After a Pirate turnover on downs to begin the quarter, the Loggers were set up with the ball, the home crowd behind them and plenty of momentum to finish the game. In short, it seemed like the perfect situation for a team trying desperately to avoid going winless on the season.
But on a drive that might have put the game out of reach for Whitworth, the Loggers fell apart. Foley threw a costly interception in Whitworth territory, and the Pirate offense drove down the field on a seven-play drive that ended with a game-tying 17-yard run by Ronnie Thomas. After a three and out by the Loggers offense, the onus fell on the defense to make a stand and keep the game tied. Instead, they let the Pirates go 75 yards, 37 of which came on the final backbreaking touchdown run by Thomas.
Down 40-34 with a little over three minutes to play, the Loggers still had a chance to pull out a victory. With the specter of an 0-9 season hanging over them, the Loggers set out on their final drive of the 2011 season, hoping it would yield a game-winning touchdown. They made it as far as the Whitworth 45-yard-line, where Foley’s fourth down pass was knocked away from junior Lucas Diesing (Niwot, Colo.) and the Loggers 2011 campaign came to an anticlimactic end.
For obvious reasons, there aren’t many positives to take from a winless season. It is impossible for a team to lose nine games in a row without having significant problems that need to be corrected, and the Loggers struggled all season with turnovers and inconsistent defense. However, there were some encouraging signs in the latter half of the season that demonstrate the potential of this team. Two of the team’s final four games were decided by seven points or less, showing the Loggers’ improvement from the beginning of the season.
Braden Foley replaced senior George Ka’ai (Aiea, Hawaii) at quarterback after five games and steadily improved. After four starts, he finished with 11 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 57.4 percent. Perhaps more importantly, he cut down on his turnovers as the season progressed, throwing five interceptions in his debut against Willamette, compared to only two over his next three games. As a freshman, Foley will only continue to improve and should be the de facto starter next season.
Starting running back Kupono Park will return next season as well, and star wide receiver Kniffin could return as a fifth-year senior. With this set of returning offensive weapons, the Loggers should have a strong offense next season.
The defense struggled overall this year, allowing 30 or more points in eight of the nine games this season. However, freshman linebacker Cody Petro-Sakuma (Honolulu, Hawaii) was a bright spot, as he finished second on the team in tackles and sacks, while tying for the lead in forced fumbles. Hopefully the team can use strong performances from Foley, Petro-Sakuma and other young players to build for next season. After a winless 2011, there is nowhere to go but up for the Logger football program.