Sean Hoxworth photos
Throwing for five touchdowns in the week on the season-opener against Triway seemed like a really big deal for West Holmes Knights quarterback Bridger Cline. However, on Friday, Aug. 31 at West Holmes Stadium, he did it again, this time against Tuslaw, and it led the Knights to a 2-0 mark in a 35-7 victory. Once is amazing, but twice is making a habit out of it.
West Holmes was very methodical in producing points, scoring a single touchdown in every quarter and tacking on an extra one in the second period, which systematically sent the Mustangs packing.
The opening score was lightning in a bottle when Cline located wide-out Shane Jones and hit him in stride for what turned into an electrifying 70-yard touchdown catch and run.
With Tuslaw chewing up the clock, the game rolled into the second quarter with the score at 7-0, but that changed when the Cline-to-Jones Express got on track again, this time for a 44-yard score to make it 14-0 on Mark Biltz’s extra point. Before they could get into the locker rooms, the Knights would cash in one more time, and to no one’s surprise, it would come courtesy of a Cline to Jones connection of 3 yards, set up by the hard running of Cale Ogi and Gavin Sheldon. Both runners produced strong numbers with Ogi leading all rushers with 102 yards on 16 carries and Sheldon amassing 52 yards on just six carries.
“We don’t care who scores as long as we keep scoring,” Ogi said. “It’s about getting the job done, regardless of who touches the ball. We put our trust in coach Gardner. He gets the plays in, and we go out and execute.”
Tuslaw would open the third period with their lone score to trim the deficit to 21-7, but West Holmes would pretty much slam the door shut in the third quarter when Cline would light up the stadium with his fourth scoring strike, this time finding young Braden Allen for a 52-yard scorcher that left little doubt as to what the outcome would be.
Cline’s final scoring pass came in the fourth period when he dropped back and found Brady Taylor for a 10-yard touchdown, completing his second straight five-TD performance.
Cline was extremely efficient, connecting on 13-of-17 passes for 233 yards while Jones hauled in five of those completions for 124 yards and three scores.
While Cline and Jones were having their way, it almost overshadowed an excellent defensive effort that saw West Holmes buckle down every time it needed to with a key stop. The defensive push started with a punishing hit from middle linebacker Josh Baldridge, which set the tone for the defense.
“That hit really pumped us up,” defensive back Grady Hay said. “But really what it came down to was digging in, putting our heads down and making plays.”
It was one of those bend-but-don’t-break evenings for the Knights’ defense. Tuslaw racked up a massive amount of yardage, considering it produced just seven points.
Much of the focus for West Holmes was stopping ace running back Brier Marthey, who ran all over Dalton for nearly 200 yards in the season-opener a week prior. Marthey did punch in the Mustangs’ lone goal, but for the most part West Holmes held him in check, allowing just 84 yards on 24 totes.
“He ran all over Dalton, so we knew we had to shut him down to be successful,” Hay said.
“We obviously want to keep working, but we are happy with where we are right now as a defensive unit,” linebacker Derek Miller said.
The Mustangs matched the Knights with 19 first downs. They ground out 156 yards on the ground and fired off 178 yards through the air. Tuslaw even converted a stunning 11-of-16 third down conversions, and only had one turnover. Yet each time they seemed to threaten, a West Holmes defender would step up and make a big play to end the threat and put the ball back into the hands of the gunslinger behind the Knights’ sturdy offensive line.
Defensive back Major Mackey said the Knights have worked hard in the weight room this offseason, putting in countless hours lifting and preparing for this season of high hopes. But he said while doing the physical work, the Knights have grown closer together as a team, and that is every bit as important.
“We’re playing for each other, not just playing for ourselves,” Mackey said. “Our defense takes a lot of pride in shutting teams down on offense, and it’s fun to turn the ball over to our offense because of the number of weapons we have. They are explosive, and we trust putting the ball in their hands.”
West Holmes will head to Bellevue to take on a Redmen team that dealt the Knights a one-touchdown loss last season that saw running back Brayden Chaney fumble inside the 5-yard line of the Redmen on the final play of the game, following a sensational individual effort.
That loss is something the Knights won’t be forgetting any time soon.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Hay said of a chance to even the score with Bellevue.