Gig Harbor needed to beat North Thurston on Friday, and get a little help from South Sound Conference peer Yelm High School. The Tides held up their end of the bargain, crushing North Thurston, 50-21 on the road.
And Yelm did its part, beating Central Kitsap. At least the Tides had thought so.
“We were in the locker room after the game, and one of my teammates said, ‘Yelm won! Yelm won!’ So we were all going crazy,” said Gig Harbor quarterback Ryan Baerg.
But the news from Twitter had been premature. Central Kitsap recovered an onside kick and still had a little time left on the clock.
“We were freaking out a bit,” Baerg said.
The players, now on the bus, were frantically refreshing the Twitter app on their smartphones, waiting to see a final score.
“That was the longest 40 seconds of a football game ever,” Baerg said.
Then, the official news: Yelm had won, knotting the Tides and Cougars up in the standings at 4-3. Luckily, Gig Harbor owns the tiebreaker, having already beat Central Kitsap earlier this year.
“We were all going crazy,” Baerg said. “We’re in the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.”
With Friday’s results, Gig Harbor takes the fourth and final seed from the SSC 3A and will hit the road to open the West Central District III playoffs, facing Edmonds-Woodway (8-1) at 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 3) at Edmonds Stadium. The winner of the game will take the No. 2 seed into the state tournament.
Gig Harbor ended its regular season in convincing fashion, walloping North Thurston, 50-21. Baerg was 14-for-18 passing for 354 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Receivers Ben Hollenbeck and Kellen Gregory were the biggest beneficiaries.
Hollenbeck hauled in 192 yards and two touchdowns on just five catches. Gregory tallied 120 yards and three touchdowns, also on five catches.
“(Hollenbeck) can do so many different things,” Fairhart said. “He can run the ball, catch the ball. He’s so quick and elusive. At wide receiver, we can isolate him a little more with people and get him into some 1-on-1 situations. We have a huge advantage with that.”
Hollenbeck’s speed is contrasted with Gregory’s 6-foot-2 frame and sure hands.
“He has such a huge range when he goes up to get the ball,” Fairhart said. “He always goes after the ball. He has great concentration, great hands. Anything anywhere near him, he’ll go up and get it.”
At times last year, Gig Harbor was perhaps a little too reliant on targeting Gregory. With the emergence of Hollenbeck, along with speedy receivers Ryan King and Jurrian Hering, the offense has opened up this year.
“Hollenbeck has really spread out the defense,” Gregory said. “I don’t know if there’s a better receiving corps in the league, or maybe even the state.”
Two years ago, Gig Harbor’s receivers earned the nickname “The Fast Fellas.” Fellow senior Cory Condon put up huge numbers his senior year, but didn’t have the same speed as the other receivers. Gregory sees a similar situation with this year’s team.
“We like to joke about it,” he said. “The team a couple years ago had the fast fellas with a side of Cory. We’ve got the fast fellas with a side of Kellen. But it’s great, they take a little pressure off me and I do the same for them. It gets spread out pretty well. If I don’t have a lot of catches in a game, it’s not like our pass offense is stalling or anything.”
Whatever they want to be called, Baerg is sure happy to have them all on his team.
“We’re always on the same page because of how we practice and prepare together,” Baerg said. “It’s just really fun throwing to guys like that. They make your stats look a lot better. When I throw a 5 yard ball and Ben runs it 75 yards down the field, I’ll take it. It’s definitely one of the best receiving corps in the area, for sure.”