With their first three snaps Friday evening, the Kennewick Lions scored two touchdowns.
Their next three failed to net a first down, and that drop off turned into a free fall amid a 35-23 first-round state playoff loss to North Thurston.
Devven Ramos scored on a 68-yard run on the game’s first offensive play and Dylan Tennancour found Kaden Julian for a 3-yard score to spark the Lions (7-3-1) to a 16-0 lead and put a thrill in the Lampson Stadium faithful less than three minutes from the opening kickoff.
But the visiting Rams (9-2) from Lacey fought back in methodical, meticulous fashion with four scores of their own before the half to steal all the momentum. And instead they will be making the trip to Spokane next weekend for a quarterfinal matchup with University.
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“That’s what happens when you fall asleep,” said Julian, adding that his team got a little too comfortable after the quick start. “Tough night.”
And a tough finish for a Kennewick team trying to reach the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Instead, it ended in a Lampson locker room full of hugs and tears.
“You earn the right to cry,” said Lions coach Bill Templeton. “I can’t tell you how much I respect what they do. It’s a year-long commitment.”
One that looked to be extended another week after that quick-strike start.
Ramos was at his big-play best right from the start when he took his first handoff, swept left and ran through one arm tackle. The entire North Thurston defense was in pursuit, stringing the play out to the sideline. But the Rams reacted too much, and one little cut back into the defense and Ramos was on his way to his 18th touchdown of the season.
By contrast, North Thurston’s first offensive series was a muddled mess, with back-to-back motion penalties leading to a punt from the 32.
The snap sailed over the head of the punter, however, and Dashawn Johnson fell on it at the 4, a 28-yard loss for the Rams.
Two plays later, Julian beat the defensive back on a comeback to the pylon, and it looked like the Lions would roll.
“Incredible,” North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin said. “I told ’em after the game, I’ve never coached a team that was down that big, that quick, that came back and dominated.”
Dominate is exactly right.
The Rams countered with an 11-play, 60-yard drive, all of it on the ground and most of it by slashing runner Mo Manning running behind the guard-tackle tandem of Grant Williams (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and Alex Rice (6-6, 317).
Manning capped the drive with a 5-yard TD, and a movement penalty on third-and-2 helped force Kennewick to punt after its next possession. That led to Brandon Belisario, a fire-plug of a back, breaking off a 47-yard score that pulled North Thurston within 16-14 with a minute left in the first half.
“We got out-physicalled, to (North Thurston’s) credit,” Templeton said. “Then we just made some uncharacteristic (mistakes).”
One of those mistakes — an errant toss on second-and-1 — created a turnover that turned into Manning’s second TD, a 15-yard run with two gorgeous cuts through the middle of the defense.
Another three-and-out for Kennewick, another short field for North Thurston, and Ryan Mets’ 23-yard TD toss to a wide open Josh Cahill had the visitors up 28-16, and there was still half the second quarter to play.
It was a stunning comeback.
“They did what they did well,” Julian said.
The Lions bounced back in the second half, first getting a stop after the Rams got the opening kickoff, then getting another big play as Tennancour hit Julian for a 55-yard TD strike to pull within 28-23.
But the Rams answered with one more scoring drive and then thwarted the Lions’ comeback attempts the rest of the way.
“That stop was big for us in the second half,” Julian said. “Then we hit that big play, but after that nothing seemed to work.”
The running game was bogged down, in particular by North Thurston tackle Jake Grantham chasing down plays. After Ramos’ first big run, the Lions gained just 83 yards on the ground the rest of the night not counting the 27 yards lost on five sacks of Tennancour.
Ramos finished with 132 on 14 carries plus 39 yards on four catches. Julian had 97 yards on five catches.
“These guys were very good leaders and obviously good athletes,” Templeton said of his departing seniors. “It’s a nice legacy for them.”
North Thurston 14 14 7 0 — 35
Kennewick 16 0 7 0 — 23
K—Devven Ramos 68 run (Ramos run)
K—Kaden Julian 3 pass from Dylan Tennancour (Mark Driver from Tennancour)
NT—Mo Manning 5 run (Matt Longnecker kick)
NT—Brandon Belisario 47 run (Longnecker kick)
NT—Manning 15 run (Longnecker kick)
NT—Josh Cahill 23 pass from Ryan Mets (Longnecker kick)
K—Julian 55 pass from Tennancour (Josh Kutzke kick)
NT—Hayden Maliska 3 pass from Mets (Longnecker kick)
RUSHING—NT, Manning 23-121, Belisario 13-84, Bobby Cervantes 2-31, Ande Grantham 4-13, Tru Hicks 2-9, Maliska 2-7, team 1-(minus 28). K, Ramos 14-132, Bodie Simpson 2-9, Tennancour 8-(minus 17).
PASSING—NT, Mets 9-17-1—111. K, Tennancour 14-22-0—166.
RECEIVING—NT, Hicks 3-26, Cahill 2-52, Cervantes 2-26, Belisario 1-4, Maliska 1-3. K, Simpson 6-40, Julian 5-97, Ramos 4-39.
FIRST DOWNS—NT 17, K 12. FUMBLES-LOST—NT 1-1, K 1-1. PENALTIES-YARDS—NT 11-80, K 6-45.