The Franklin Pierce High School football team had a lot of reasons to feel at a disadvantage Friday against previously unbeaten River Ridge.
To name a few: a substitute coach, no wins, four interceptions (including two in the red zone) and an opponent thirsty for a victory in its first-ever 2A South Puget Sound League game.
Without coach Howard Lutton, the Cardinals rallied from a halftime deficit and a late red-zone turnover with Cameron Myers’ 28-yard field goal with 37 seconds left. Myers’ kick gave Franklin Pierce a 16-14 win and its first victory of the season, while handing River Ridge its first loss.
“It was a tough week,” said Dave Naron, who took over coaching duties for Lutton while the longtime Cardinals coach served the first of a two-game league-sanctioned suspension for a WIAA violation, according to athletic coordinator Jon Kropilak.
“But you know what? Our kids are resilient,” Naron said. “The reality is, our guys came through.”
River Ridge led for most of the game on the strength of Michael Key’s two first-half rushing touchdowns.
Its offense disappeared the second half.
Chris Leiba fumbled at the Hawks’ 38 to start the fourth quarter, and Franklin Pierce recovered. Trenton Gardner’s 25-yard run set up a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-4 from sophomore quarterback Willie Patterson to Kyle Naron, Dave Naron’s son.
But Myers missed the extra point, so River Ridge still led 14-13.
Franklin Pierce later drove to the 9 with less than three minutes left, but Patterson’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by Jason Kananin, who barely got a foot inbounds. It was Patterson’s fourth interception of the game.
“I was like, ‘I just need to flush it, flush it, flush it,’ ” Patterson said. “That was what I was taught in Little League, was to move on. I knew I could make plays.”
River Ridge went three-and-out, and Patterson hooked up on three big completions to Tanner Bloom to set the Cardinals up at the Hawks’ 7.
Myers’ field goal barely cleared the left corner of the goalpost to put Franklin Pierce ahead with 37 seconds to go.
“I thought they came out and played like they wanted to win the football game,” River Ridge coach Steve Schultz said of Franklin Pierce. “They competed and made plays at the end, and we didn’t. When we had opportunities to get first downs and run the clock out, we didn’t. They just flat outplayed us.”
Patterson completed 8 of 20 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and the four picks. Franklin Pierce rushed for 228 yards, led by Gardner’s 96 and Alex Bing’s 85. Bing also had a 54-yard TD catch on a screen pass in the first quarter that opened the scoring.
River Ridge’s Key had 21 carries for 67 yards and the two touchdowns. In was the Hawks’ first game in the 2A SPSL after previously competing in the 2A Evergreen Conference.