Chasing the championship

December 1, 2010 

Covering Kamiakin High football games this season had been a frustrating assignment. Longtime readers may remember my gripes from a couple years ago, but this season's grumbles stemmed from a wholly different reason.

The Braves were just too damn good.

We only have one photographer handling the Friday football games on any given night, and with a typical two games to shoot, we have to plan our coverage accordingly. If one game was at Lampson Stadium, it only made sense to cover that game second since Lampson is less than a mile away. Covering two games and producing two galleries without crossing over into frowned-upon overtime hours is pretty tough if you have to drive back from Edgar Brown in Pasco or Fran Rish in Richland after the third quarter.

Still, I always checked in with our sports reporters to get their projections and analysis on the games I would be covering. I wanted to know what sort of offenses the teams ran and who the impact players would be — especially for visiting teams I didn't see very often. This information is valuable when you have limited time to photograph a game. For example, I would position myself farther downfield while covering a pass-oriented team with a strong quarterback, but I would make sure to get a closer snap of his throwing motion. In this red zone, I would head to the corners, hoping for a fade route and touchdown pass with this type of team, but if the offense featured a power running game, then I would stand near the goal post to get shots of them punching it up the gut.

With Kamiakin's myriad weapons, however, it was tough to anticipate their next move. But what affected my photo coverage of the Braves even more was how quickly they would get the win in-hand. Depending on the other game's importance, I would try to get to Lampson as quickly as possible in the hope of shooting some pre-garbage time play. Without fail, however, Kamiakin was always up by 20 to 30 points, even when I arrived halfway through the second quarter.

Thankfully, the starters usually stayed in, but often the best photos I managed to get in these long-decided games were CYA-quality. Shots of Tim White running were an easy go-to:

And it's not like Kamiakin stopped throwing the ball. I managed to get a somewhat different shot of Tyler Holle stretching for yards after the catch to score a touchdown:

And it gave me a chance to get shots of players from other teams who played well despite getting blown out, like Pasco's Brandon Search breaking up this pass:

This shot of a Dom Davis touchdown worked out well with his celebratory expression and the scoreboard in the background — a nice reward during a stressful Saturday with four playoff games to cover —

but I had plenty of glorious failures too. Tim White uncorked a big punt return into the end zone and I didn't adjust my exposure for the darker end of the field. The framing is a little tight, but had I exposed it properly, it would have been nice to run. A bonus would have been getting sports reporter Annie Fowler, right, into a published photo as well:

You can see all the noise from bringing the levels up.

When my timing worked out, I tried to at least lay the groundwork for better access if Kamiakin made a deep playoff push. Second-year coach Scott Biglin let me into the locker room at halftime during their regular season rout of Southridge, and while my shots were nothing spectacular,

they gave gallery viewers a look at something most of them don't get to see. My hope was that it would also get the players used to my presence. The access Biglin granted me was a nice surprise considering my experiences from two years ago. And while I did get kicked out of the sideline a couple times during the season, it was only because of anal officials. Still, despite the infinitely improved access, the uncompetitive nature of all those games when I arrived made me long for a chance to spend more time at a game. That chance came last Saturday during the Braves' semifinal matchup with Capital.

Of course, with any highly anticipated event, this one had an inauspicious start. Coming off a week-long vacation in Portland with my family, the road report Friday was dicey, so my brother and I opted to start early Saturday. Despite padding our travel time to account for slow traffic on a wintery Interstate 84, I didn't get into the office until 1 p.m. — when the game actually started. I would have preferred an earlier arrival, but that wasn't terrible. I got to the game as Capital missed its extra point, meaning Kamiakin was up 7-6, far preferable to the 35 points of fireworks I missed in my previous games.

With my Mark IIn finally being sent off for repair, I was stuck with two of the old 1D's. Don't worry, I won't get into a gear-grumbling discussion again, but I was thankful for the early game because of the 9-year-old camera's poor low-light performance.

I didn't get many noteworthy shots in that first half, though, except for a couple shots that would work well if Kamiakin lost the game, like Capital's Nicholas Wynn batting down a pass into the end zone intended for Kamiakin's Tyler Holle,

and quarterback Joey Jansen's overthrown touchdown attempt to Cody Wilmoth:

Frost fearless Jake Kirchhoff, 12, of Kennewick, also gave me a solid feature for the news side if needed as he flexed for the crowd after swinging his shirt to Cotton Eye Joe:

And I got a decent fan celebration shot, too:

Then, disaster struck. All five batteries I brought with me fizzled, due to a combination of their age, the cold and my extended absence, which meant they probably trickled out a bit during the week. With about seven minutes left in the second quarter, I decided to head back to the office. I had another football game and hockey later that day and needed time for them to recharge. Utilizing what little willpower I have, I resisted the urge to powerslide my way through the icy streets, hoping one of my coworkers had some batteries waiting on their chargers. Luckily, photo editor Bob Brawdy had two and I snagged them. My parking spot was taken when I returned, but when I saw there was less than two minutes left in the half, I decided to park like a jerk, with the company Outback's butt hanging a bit past where it should have been. I rushed back in and followed them into the locker room for halftime, where I shot this frame, which oddly looks like they had suffered defeat:

This shot of Kamiakin assistant coach Gilbert Marquez has a nice motivational feel to it:

And head coach Scott Biglin joined his players in getting amped for the second half:

The rest of the game panned out OK. For coverage, I was able to get solid shots of the key players, including quarterback Joey Jansen running for a touchdown,

though I was slow to switch to the camera with my wide angle lens and missed his dive into the end zone:

Running back Zach Umemoto had a strong day and this shot of teammates hoisting him in celebration made for a good cutout on the front page:

Tim White made some big defensive plays, like when he rejected this attempt to Capital's Roman Vern:

White had another radical play that sports reporter Kevin Anthony highlighted in his coverage:

White provided some dazzle of his own on his 33-yard scoring catch in the third quarter on a ball that hung up going into double coverage.

White, bracketed by the defense, went up high to take the ball away from one defender, then landed and immediately slipped away from the second for the easy score.

"That was the first ball up to then that I felt slip out of my hand," Jansen said. "I looked down, I was cussing myself, and then I see Tim go up and make the catch. That was a huge relief."

"I had no clue," White said. "I caught it, turned around and the guy just missed."

Feeling a big pass might be queued up, I moved down field. As soon as I saw Jansen go into a throwing motion toward my direction, I switched from my 300/2.8 lens (with a 1.4x teleconverter) to the camera with the 24-70/2.8. Shooting at 70mm, I captured the play. Here are three possible moments if I had gone with one of these shots for our published coverage:

I don't think any of them really convey the spectacular nature of the play, and even at 70mm, I was a bit too far away. If it had been the game winning play, one of the three above would have worked — maybe the second one to show him breaking a tackle — but seeing it unfold was pretty fun. Here's an animation to show you the uncropped series:

And aside from feeling like a hobo photo guy, using the team's heaters to warm my batteries,

squeezing just enough juice out of them to finish the game, I can't complain about the second half. Sure, it was cold, but Herald Human Resources Manager Kelly Nite graciously hooked Kevin and me up with hand warmers and I was able to shoot through the post-game celebrations:

I was extra excited to follow them into the locker room, assuming they'd be spraying Martinelli's sparkling cider all over the place, but that didn't happen, and I wasn't really able to convey their excitement:

The season feels incomplete to me, however, but I now have a chance to either erase or magnify my shortcomings in covering this game when I travel to Tacoma for the state championship game. In nearly three years on staff, this is my first opportunity to travel and cover a game of this magnitude. The way games tend to shake out lopsidedly during the regular season and the limited time I usually have to cover them isn't unique to Kamiakin and being able to finally realize what I have been working all season toward — similar to the players — is exciting.

Here's hoping I can step up.

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