Spartans fend off Pe Ell 21-18 to improve to 7-1
By Pierre LaBossiere
Olympic Peninsula News Group
FORKS — Sometimes, it really does come down to a game of inches.
In its toughest win of the year, the Forks football team battled to hang on for a 21-18 victory over a good Pe Ell-Willapa Valley squad that had eight chances in the red zone in the final four minutes to score a go-ahead touchdown.
The Spartans’ defense held for all eight of those plays, the final one a pass into the end zone on a fourth-and-10 at the 15-yard-line with less than 2 minutes to play. Pe Ell quarterback Nate Fluke found a receiver open in the end zone, but the pass was low and the officials ruled that the receiver trapped the ball, giving the Spartans a turnover on downs. Forks then ended the game with a couple of kneel-downs.
It was a battle of two evenly matched teams. The Titans had a deadly passing attack, while Forks gashed Pe Ell with a number of big running plays, most of them from Nate Dahlgren.
Dahlgren finished the game with 27 carries for 238 yards and three touchdowns.
“Give Pe Ell credit, they play extremely hard. They’re a physical team,” said Forks coach Trevor Highfield. “We’ve been made for games like this over the last four years. We really had our backs against the wall. It came down to our grit and determination at the end of the game.”
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley came into Friday’s game with a 5-2 record and ranked in the top 10 in Ratings Percentage Index. Forks is 7-1 after the win and moved up to No. 4 in RPI among 2B schools.
Highfield said the difference in the game came down to not only defense, but special teams. Crucial to the victory was DeAnthony Davila going 3-for-3 on his point-after kicks that ended up being the difference in the game. The Titans missed one kick and the Spartans held them out of the end zone on two other two-point attempts.
The Titans had the Spartans on their heels through much of the fourth quarter as neither team could score in the final 12 minutes.
The Titans drove half the field and had a first-and-10 at the 19 with 3:30 left to play. The Spartans broke up three Fluke passes to get a turnover on downs.
However, on the next possession, Forks made a bold decision to go for it on a fourth-and-1 on their own 28 yard-line with 2:17 left in the game. Quarterback Bubba Hernandez ran off the right end and the refs ruled he came up short of the first down, handing the ball back to the Titans deep in Forks territory with plenty of time.
The Titans were able to move it down to the 15-yard line but the Spartans’ defense stiffened a second time for four straight plays.
The first three quarters featured huge plays and swings of momentum before turning into a defensive struggle in the fourth.
The Titans got on the board first with an 11-yard TD pass from Fluke to Blaine King, who had 10 catches for 236 yards.
Forks responded with a 35-yard run by Nate Dahlgren, setting up his own 1-yard plunge to make it 7-6.
The Titans responded in turn with an 87-yard pass play from Fluke to King to take a 12-7 lead, but then Dahlgren came back with touchdown runs of 9 and 60 yards to give the Spartans a 21-12 lead at the end of the first half.
Pe Ell got another 60-yard pass from Fluke to King to set up a short touchdown run in the third quarter to draw close at 21-18.
Hernandez ended a drive early in the fourth quarter with an interception.
“This is exciting for the school and the community,” Highfield said. The Spartans (3-1, 7-1) have another huge game coming up at 7 p.m. Thursday on the road against No. 3 Napavine (3-0, 7-1). With a win, Forks could avoid a potential three-way tie with Raymond and Pe Ell for second place in the ultra-tough Pacific 2B League.