For a quarter, Friday night’s showdown between visiting Steilacoom High School and Eatonville for the Class 2A SPSL Sound lead settled into a defensive struggle, with neither team scoring in the opening period.
Then, the third-ranked Sentinels took advantage of the Cruisers defensive tactics — guarding top Division I prospect Emeka Egbuka straight up.
“Single coverage,” said Steilacoom’s senior quarterback JJ Lemming, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. “We like the matchup when we see Emeka covered by one dude.”
By halftime, Egbuka would catch touchdown passes of 36, 44 and 16 yards. On the second, the sophomore wide receiver went up in traffic between two Cruisers, came down with the ball at the Eatonville 15, and literally walked into the end zone.
Steilacoom (7-0) was never seriously challenged after taking a three-possession lead, and rolled to a 49-21 victory over the Cruisers (5-2) at Eatonville High School.
“It’s a rivalry game, a statement win for us,” Lemming said.
In the third quarter, Egbuka added a fourth touchdown grab on a 23-yard reception, during which he twice spun away from multiple tacklers.
“I’ve always wanted to play like that. Honestly my mind just took over,” Egbuka said. “Once I had the ball in my hands, I did what I had to do to stay up and score.”
Egbuka totaled nine catches for 161 yards and set up his shortest touchdown grab with a 30-yard punt return on the previous play.
“Emeka’s looking for a challenge every week,” Sentinels coach Colby Davies said. “He’s on a mission. He’s taken his game to the next level. He was challenged a few times tonight, and he was happy to embrace it and get after it.”
Egbuka wasn’t perfect. Twice Eatonville defensive back Zach Smith was able to deny him a fifth touchdown reception. Defensively, Eatonville’s big play offense came to life late in the first half when Caden Jumper slipped out of his tackle on the way to a 76-yard touchdown on a pass from Tristan Schoepf.
But the chemistry between him and Lemming is startling, especially considering Ebuka is a sophomore and Lemming a senior.
“Every day after practice we throw routes, get extra work in,” Egbuka said.
Davies sees the results.
“It’s fun to watch these guys grow. They’re getting better each and every week. J.J. is out there taking charge,” he said.
Coming into the game, Davies was concerned about Eatonville’s multiple offensive weapons, but with linebacker Jaymason Willingham blitzing for a number of sacks, Schoepf was tackled for losses seven times, stalling Cruisers drives.
But Eatonville occasionally made up for that by breaking off big plays. Jumper’s long touchdown catch and run put the Cruisers on the board for the first time.
In the third quarter, Michael Velez hauled in a Schoepf pass, streaking down the middle for a 35-yard touchdown and a 67-yard Kekoa Visperas catch rounded out the Eatonville scoring.
“They have a dynamic offense. They do some things to get you out of position,” Davies said.
But Steilacoom’s own offense was too dynamic for the Cruisers to overcome. In addition to the passing game, Willingham carried 19 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns, while Lance Garcia added 81 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
“The attitude and effort from our kids was awesome,” Davies said. “This was a game where we played up to our expectations.”
NO. 3 STEILACOOM
S – Emeke Egbuka 36 pass from JJ Lemming (Ty Reeder kick)
S – Egbuka 44 pass from Lemming (Reeder kick)
S – Egbuka 16 pass from Lemming (Reeder kick)
E – Caden Jumper 76 pass from Tristan Schoepf (Diego Luna kick)
S – Jaymason Willingham 1 run (Reeder kick)
S – Egbuka 23 pass from Lemming (Reeder kick)
S – Willingham 35 run (Reeder kick)
E – Michael Velez 35 pass from Schoepf (Luna kick)
E – Kekoa Visperas 67 pass from Schoepf (Luna kick)
S – Lance Garcia 10 run (Reeder kick)
Passing: S – Lemming 21-33-1-326. E – Schoepf 10-21-1-295.
Rushing: S – Willingham 19-155; Garcia 11-81; Lemming 1-2; Jaden Coalsen 1-(-1). E – Jumper 7-4; Visperas 1-5; Schoepf 10-(-32); Zach Smith 1-(-1).
Receiving: S – Egbuka 9-161; Logan Brady 2-16; Alex Brady 4-63; Graig Padgett 2-12; Coalsen 4-97. E – Jumper 3-126; Visperas 5-111; Velez 2-58.