At one point in the fourth quarter Friday night, Gig Harbor junior quarterback Ryan Baerg was passing to junior Kellen Gregory nearly every play. It didn’t take the defense long to catch on.
The throwing windows got smaller and smaller. The hits got harder and harder.
But Gregory kept catching the ball.
“I actually like contact — I’m not going to lie,” Gregory said after the game. “I don’t mind taking some hits, as long as I catch the ball.”
I actually like contact — I’m not going to lie. I don’t mind taking some hits, as long as I catch the ball.
Kellen Gregory, Gig Harbor junior receiver
Despite a 40-28 loss to No. 8 Squalicum, Gig Harbor may have found its next breakout star in Gregory. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has the size that coach Aaron Chantler relishes coaching. And the attitude is there, too.
“He’s a big-bodied receiver,” Chantler said. “Everybody knows how much we like those guys.”
He didn’t get a chance to show his skills much last year, with the depth and experience of Gig Harbor’s receiving corps. But now it’s Gregory’s time to shine.
He’s got a lot of talent. I thought we did a good job of getting him involved in the second half.
Aaron Chantler, Gig Harbor coach
“He made some huge catches in the second half,” Chantler said of his wideout’s performance Friday night. “It’s definitely a building block and something we want to focus on moving forward. He’s got a lot of talent. I thought we did a good job of getting him involved in the second half.”
While Gig Harbor alternated snaps at quarterback between juniors Baerg and Nick Yockey, it was Baerg who Gregory developed a rapport with quickly.
“It felt awesome,” Gregory said of the connection between the two. “If he gets the ball to me, I’ll try to catch it.”
Like in the fourth quarter, when Gig Harbor had a fourth-and-20. Everyone in the stadium probably knew it was going to Gregory, but it didn’t matter. He went up between defenders and got the catch for the touchdown.
“I knew I was going to take a hit,” Gregory said. “So I just thought, ‘Why not catch the ball? You’re going to get hit anyways.’”
Gregory finished with 175 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 14 catches.
While he was certainly a bright spot, the Tides struggled taking care of the ball, committing five turnovers against the Storm in the loss.
“You turn the ball over five times, it’s hard to win a football game,” Chantler said. “They’re a good team, they’re well coached. ... We turned the ball over five times, and it wasn’t like we were turning the ball over deep in our own end. We were turning the ball over as we’re driving down the field.”
With three fumbles and two interceptions, the Tides couldn’t get out of their own way. But some growing pains were expected. Gig Harbor had the unenviable task of replacing nearly its entire roster from a 2015 team that was one of the school’s best.
“It’s a young ball club,” Chantler said. “We’re trying to go through the bumps and the bruises, the ups and downs. That’s normal. We’ll correct it. Hopefully next week we take care of the ball a little better.”
Gig Harbor had a tough time with Squalicum’s rushing attack. Junior running back Triston Smith rushed for 150 yards on 19 carries, and senior running back Ben Peterson tallied 182 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
“We got a little tall on the defensive line,” Chantler said. “We have to stay a little lower, fire off, try to put our helmets on their hip instead of standing straight up and trying to make too much happen by being a big teddy bear on roller skates. ... It’s easily correctable stuff. We’ll work on it this week and hope to do a better job next week.”
Gig Harbor also broke in two new quarterbacks.
“We’ve got to look at the film and break that down,” Chantler said. “Both (players) showed good things. I think Yockey played fairly well in the first half and then Ryan really stepped up at the end.”
Gig Harbor hits the road this week, facing Spanaway Lake at 7 p.m. Friday (Sept. 9) at Art Crate Stadium.