Graham-Kapowsin High School junior Malaki Roberson hauled in his second interception of the night after the final buzzer sounded, sealing a wild Class 4A SPSL win Friday night in University Place.
With one second remaining on the clock — and one final shot — Curtis quarterback Kyle Russell heaved the ball from midfield. Roberson jumped just outside of the end zone, came down with his second pick in two minutes, and the fifth-ranked Eagles exhaled, preserving a 27-26 win at Viking Stadium.
“We were just telling him to get up there and bat it down or pick it off, and he did,” Eagles quarterback Dylan Morris said. “We put our athletes out there, and they made a play.”
A big play on an attempt at the end zone that almost didn’t happen.
Moments earlier, the Eagles were in victory formation, after Roberson’s first interception gave them the ball back with a 27-24 lead and 58.2 seconds to play. Morris, a UW commit, twice took a knee before a personal foul call on the Eagles significantly backed them up on third down.
“They’re in our huddle chirping. Our guy reacted. He shouldn’t have. That’s what happens, though,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said. “You have to keep your head up and be able to finish games.”
Morris again took a knee, but could not completely run out the clock, setting up a fourth-and-long with Graham-Kapowsin backed up in its own end zone. The Eagles sent out their punting unit, and conceded a safety with two seconds remaining.
“I think they were trying to get a personal foul call out of us, and they did, and forced us to get the punt team out there and take the safety,” Morris said. “Coaches made a smart play to get some time off of the clock. (Curtis) got the ball back, but it was tough for them to score.”
Curtis senior Zack Paulsen fell on the ensuing kickoff on the Eagles 42 with one second remaining to set up Russell’s final Hail Mary attempt.
“That’s what you want,” Curtis coach Chris Paulson said. “You want the ball in Kyle Russell’s hands on the last play of the game to try to beat Graham-Kapowsin. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way.”
The peculiar sequence ended a back-and-forth battle between 4A SPSL rivals that saw the two teams combine for 51 points in the first half, and zero in the second half before the late safety.
“I think you had two really talented teams, and both sides were making plays early, and both got a chance to regroup at halftime,” Paulson said. “I think you saw two talented teams on defense in the second half.
“I thought it would be back-and-forth. To do that in the first half, and then see the opposite in the second, I wasn’t overly surprised.”
The two programs played ping-pong with the lead seven times in the first half after Russell, an Oregon baseball commit, scored the first of his four touchdowns on a 3-yard keeper on the game’s first drive.
Russell had two rushing touchdowns and passing touchdowns apiece. He gave Curtis the lead three more times on a 38-yard keeper, and two passes to Jordan Parker for 49 and 4 yards.
Russell finished 14 of 24 passing for 168 yards, the two touchdowns and two interceptions. He added another 71 yards on 14 carries and the two scores. Parker led the Vikings in receiving with 92 yards on six catches.
Each of Graham-Kapowsin’s four touchdowns came on the ground. Tommy Loa, who rushed for a game-high 204 yards on 33 carries, scored on runs of 5 and 8 yards.
“We knew that we had to control the football against them because they’re so dynamic on offense with their skill kids,” Kurle said.
Loa, who took over for injured starter Aaron Olmos (knee), consistently barreled through Curtis defenders and pushed the pile to keep Graham-Kapowsin drives going.
“Coming into this, I wasn’t really ready,” said Loa, who took over after Olmos was injured three plays into the Eagles’ win over Olympia two weeks ago. “I was more of a defensive lineman guy. But, stepping (into) this, I had to really step up my game.
“I havd to practice as hard as I could to get where Aaron (92 carries, 641 yards, nine TDs in five games) is, and follow in (his) footsteps.”
Jake Porter added a 1-yard score and had eight carries for 50 yards for the Eagles.
And Roberson, who finished with 37 receiving yards on four catches, scored the decisive touchdown on a 14-yard reverse from Morris (11 of 23, 106 yards, interception) with 39.3 seconds remaining in the first half.
Each team punted just once in the first half, and neither turned the ball over, but the second half was quite the opposite.
Graham-Kapowsin punted twice and turned the ball over three times. Curtis punted three times, turned the ball over twice and missed a field goal.
The Vikings tried to tie the game with 3:58 remaining in the fourth, but Russell’s field goal attempt from 37 yards out fell short.
It appeared the Eagles would run out the clock on the next drive, rushing the ball eight consecutive times between Loa and Porter, but Curtis popped the ball out of Loa’s hands at the end of a 14-yard run, and regained possession with 1:17 to go.
Russell was pressured on the first play of Curtis’ drive, scrambled and appeared to try to throw the ball out of bounds down the right sideline, but Roberson picked it off, setting up Graham-Kapowsin’s final drive, which ended in the safety.
“I think he’s caught in between, ‘Do I live to play another down or do I try to make a play?’ And there’s a lot of times in that game where he made a play doing things like that,” Paulson said of Russell.
“He was competing, and unfortunately it didn’t go another yard and make it out of bounds.”
NO. 5 GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN
C – Kyle Russell 3 run (kick failed)
GK – Tommy Loa 5 run (Josh Williams kick)
C – Jordan Parker 49 pass from Russell (run failed)
GK – Loa 8 run (Williams kick)
C – Russell 38 run (pass failed)
GK – Jake Porter 1 run (kick failed)
C – Parker 4 pass from Russell (pass failed)
GK – Malaki Roberson 14 run (Williams kick)
C – Safety
Passing: GK – Dylan Morris 11-23-1-106. C – Russell 14-24-2-168.
Rushing: GK – Loa 33-204; Porter 8-50; Roberson 2-15; Morris 4-(-17). C – Adrian St. Germain 11-57; Russell 14-71.
Receiving: GK – Roberson 4-37; Eython Daugherty 3-25; Porter 2-24; Michael Kelley Jr. 2-20. C – Parker 6-92; Keyon Corvey 4-28; Marlon Jones 2-25; Zack Paulsen 2-23.