It wasn’t the prettiest win, but style counts for little when it comes to playoff football.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon at Lampson Stadium, Dillon Crawford had 31/2 of Kamiakin High School’s eight sacks, and Benson Smith scored second-half touchdowns on a reception and a kickoff return as the No. 5 Braves held off the visiting Lakes Lancers 24-21 to advance to the Class 3A state playoffs for the third consecutive year.
“We’re moving on in the playoffs,” Crawford said. “It’s always a good deal, I don’t really care what the score is, we’re moving on. That’s the whole goal.”
Defending state champion Kamiakin (9-1) will go on the road to face No. 7 Timberline (10-0, 3A South Sound champion) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the first round.
Against an athletic Lancers’ team that matched up well with Kamiakin on the outside, the Braves’ pass rush against junior quarterback Liam Bladow proved critical.
“They wanted to throw the ball, and throw the ball on us, but we put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and I think that was a big deal,” Crawford said. “I think that quarterback had it in the back of his mind the whole time that we were coming.”
But when Bladow was able to get the ball away, Lakes made Kamiakin pay. Na’hoku Agor, a 5-foot-8, 180 pound senior, racked up 115 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches, and scored all three of the Lancers touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing). Defensively, Lakes badly disrupted Kamiakin’s rhythm, holding freshman tailback Tuna Altahir to just 41 yards on 17 carries and intercepting Payton Flynn twice.
“They’ve got a lot of great athletes over there, and their guys up front handled us pretty well,” Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin said. “We didn’t do anything offensively that we wanted to do, so we’re gonna have to go and study the film to make some adjustments, because we’re gonna have another great team we have to go play next week.”
Flynn completed 14 of his 29 passes for 212 yards, with a touchdown, and found Champ Grayson six times for 121 yards.
Kamiakin started its first drive deep in Lakes’ territory, and had a would-be 39-yard touchdown hookup from Flynn to Smith brought back on an illegal man down field call. It wouldn’t matter though, as Grayson hauled in another 39-yard bomb on the ensuing play, and Altahir punched the ball across the goal line for a 5-yard score on the ensuing snap to make it 7-0.
But as fast as the game started, defense dominated the rest of the first half, with a 24-yard TD pass from Bladow to Agor to tie it at 7-all in the second quarter serving as the only other score. Kamiakin got rolling on the final possession before the intermission, driving 65 yards in 1 minute, 30 seconds, but the result was Kaden Shymanski just missing wide right on a 25-yard field goal attempt as the half expired.
Lakes started the second half in similar fashion to how Kamiakin opened the game, with an interception setting up a 24-yard catch by Agor inside the Braves’ 5, who scored a few plays later on a 2-yard run to give the Lancers their only lead of the game, at 14-7. But Smith quickly returned the favor, getting behind stellar blocking and speeding 97 yards untouched on the ensuing kick, which tied it back up.
“That touchdown on us early was kind of a heartbreaker coming right out of the half,” Smith said, “because we were expecting to come out fast and hard, and we wanted that to be us coming out and scoring quickly.
“But we dealt with that adversity, and on that kick return the blockers blocked incredibly well. There was a wide open hole, a truck could have gone through it, so I just had to run as fast as I could.”
Smith then helped Kamiakin reclaim the lead when, on fourth-and-7, Flynn found him in the front of the end zone from 17 yards out to make it 21-14 with 10 minutes to play. Shymanski later capped off a 51/2-minute, 56-yard late drive with a 31-yard field goal that put the Braves up by 10 with 2:15 to play.
“To our credit, we battled,” Biglin said. “And that field goal by Kaden there kind of iced the game.”
That drive and kick proved to be the difference, as Lakes (6-4) marched down the field on the next possession, with Agor scoring his third and final TD of the day, on a 12-yard pass from Bladow, with 2 seconds remaining. Kamiakin recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
“I’m so proud of our boys, playing a really good Kamiakin squad,” said Lakes coach Dave Miller, whose team had won playoff games at Lampson Stadium the past two years and five times in total. “We know they’re always tough over here, but the coaches do a great job of getting Kamiakin ready. They always have a great program, defending state champs, and to come over on their field, and take them down to the final whistle, couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”