WESTPORT — The jitters, the butterflies, the yips — whichever you wish to call it — the Ocosta Wildcats found themselves dealing with that and more in Saturday’s season-opening game at home against the La Conner Braves.
Down 7-0 after giving up a big-play touchdown in the first quarter, the Wildcats overcame a slew of penalties and made big plays in the second half to earn a 14-7 come-from-behind victory at Griffin Field.
For the first two-thirds of the game, the Wildcats offense effectively moved the football, but failed to put any points on the board, thanks in large part to the aforementioned penalties (Ocosta was dinged for 140 penalty yards in the game) and an occasional recovered fumble/bad exchange, which stifled and disrupted Wildcat drives into Braves territory.
The Wildcats (1-0) missed a golden opportunity to score at the end of the first half, when a drive stalled inside the 10-yard line and place kicker Paul Bjornsgard missed a short field goal attempt, sending Ocosta to the locker room down by a touchdown.
“The jitters were definitely there,” Ocosta starting quarterback/linebacker Cole Hatton said. “We talked about what we could do to move the ball. Our defense was great today.”
The Wildcats continued to persevere after the penalty problems continued in the third quarter, as that defense — led by Hatton’s four sacks in the second half — shut out the La Conner offense the remainder of the game.
“I felt that our defense really began to step up in the second quarter and second half,” Raffelson of his defense that allowed La Conner to cross midfield just once the entire second half (and that was off a Wildcat onside kick that failed to go the full 10 yards). “We gave up one busted play they scored a long touchdown on. Other than that, our defense pretty much shut them down.”
Late in the third quarter, Ocosta’s perseverance paid off when Hatton hit senior receiver Jayden Matthews on an inside slant route. Matthews caught the pass in stride, and outran the Braves secondary for a 53-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
On the Braves’ first play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession, Ocosta’s Chris Taylor intercepted La Conner sophomore QB Brady Myles, setting up the Wildcats with good field position at their own 37-yard line. Hatton and the offense charged downfield to the 8-yard line. But a Hatton pass was intercepted by La Conner’s Luke Marble, ending the threat.
After forcing La Conner to punt, the Wildcats offense again found itself driving into La Conner territory, but a combination of four Ocosta penalties (two on one play) and a sack put the Wildcats at 3rd and 60 from the 8-yard line.
Enter Bjornsgard, who shook off the earlier missed field goal to uncork a 80-plus-yard punt off a bad snap and switch field position back in favor of the Wildcats.
“”We were what? First and 80?” Raffelson quipped of the situation before praising his kicker and the special teams. “An 85-yard punt gets us out of it. … Paul kicked that from the endzone line and put the ball on the 12. That’s one heck of a kick.”
After the two teams traded punts over the next four possessions, the Wildcats big-play offense struck again.
With just over half a minute left in the game, Hatton dropped back to pass and hit Kobe Beck on a wheel route up the the left hash mark. Two La Conner defensive backs whiffed on Beck as he made the catch and ran untouched into the endzone to send the Ocosta sideline, and stands, into a frenzy.
“He’s one of those players, when the ball is in the air, he is coming down with it 99.9 percent of the time,” Raffelson said of Beck, who caught the pass in stride and had to keep from stumbling forward while running away from the Braves defense. “Kobe is just one of those athletes that you want to get the ball to.”
Hatton finished the game with 145 passing yards and two TDs.
The shifty, elusive Beck ran for 73 yards and had 53 receiving yards.
Matthews led Ocosta with 92 receiving yards and Bjornsgard, in addition to his gargantuan punt, pinned La Conner inside its own 20 four times.
Hatton, a senior, was more than happy to start the season off with a win.
“After the last couple of seasons, we needed a win to start it off and get it going,” he said. “It looks good for the rest of the season.”