The Pirates started slow, making mistakes, playing on their back heels, and falling behind for only the second time this season. With 5:30 left in the first quarter, Steilacoom Sentinel Quarterback Drew MacDonald capped a 65-yard drive, running for a one-yard touchdown. In their opening drive, the Sentinels had proved successful on the ground and in the air. Steilacoom seemed confident and, despite their 5-4 season record, looked like a different team than the one the Pirates crushed in their 2022 season opener.
In the Pirates’ first drive, Steilacoom picked Pirate Quarterback Ronan Rasmussen, giving them the ball on the Pirate 39-yard line. The Sentinels drove down to the 1-yard line, but a heads-up sack by Vilisoni Angilau and tackle by Nat Clay forced a turnover on downs. Beginning on their own one-yard line, the Pirates made short work of the field. A gusty 15-yard run by Clay set up an 85-yard touchdown reception by MJ Baker. The Pirate speed was just too much for the Sentinels. After breaking a couple of tackles, Baker was free, and no one was going to catch him. With 55 seconds left in Q1, the Pirates had the lead 7-6.
Steilacoom did not take this laying down; starting the next drive on their 20, they, too, showed they had playmakers and burst out for a 47-yard gain. Putting together a 9-play drive, they moved the ball to the Pirate 4-yard line. But the Pirate defense stiffened, and on 3rd down and 3 on the 4, the Sentinels’ center delivered a high snap, moving them back to the 11. Steilacoom settled for a field goal. At 7:39 in the second quarter, it was 9-7, Sentinels.
The Sentinels, who never kicked deep for fear of getting the ball in the hands of the Pirates fleet returners, attempted only onside kicks. Pirate Sophomore Line Backer Tevita Angilau, who had a breakout game on defense, successfully handled all onside kicks with sure hands, giving the Pirates an excellent field position to start every drive. Beginning at the Sentinel 46, Jamaine Matthews and Clay pounded Steilacoom. Junior Receiver Adam Estrada broke tackles to move the ball to the 2, and Senior Marquawn McCraney finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. At 5:07, it was 13-9 Pirates, and those watching could feel the Pirate momentum building. “We picked up the mental mistakes, and everyone started clicking,” said Pirate Quarterback Ronan Rasmussen, who was on the throwing end of 4 touchdown strikes.
The Pirate defense, led by the Angilau twins, Tevita and Vilisoni, forced a 3-and-out on the Sentinels’ next drive. In this game, Tevita was in on 14 tackles; Vilisoni had 3 sacks.
“Vita is maturing, but more importantly, he’s becoming a leader amongst leaders.”, Head Coach Deontae Cooper said.
The Pirates went right back to work on offense. Starting on the Sentinel 34, it took only two plays for the Pirates to score on a 31-yard reception by Estrada. Score: 21-9 with 2:53 in the half. From that point, the outcome of the game was not in doubt.
The Pirates had 3 Second half-scoring drives. First of 50 yards, capped by a McCraney 34 touchdown reception. The second 51 yards were finished by Matthews 8-yard run. And finally, a 52-yard series was completed with another McCraney score.
The game could have gotten away from the Sentinels much sooner. The Pirate defensive backs played glue-like coverage on their receivers. Unfortunately, the Pirate defenders seemed to have a case of the “drops,” letting 4 passes in their hands hit the turf.
“I feel like the expectation has elevated because of playoffs, and with a coach like Coach Coop, you have no choice but to rise to the occasion; the whole team has done that,” said McCraney, who had touchdown receptions of 34 and 52 yards on the night.
“This team continues to impress me. Their growth and understanding of the moment have really improved. They all are locked into the task at hand. The trust that lives inside our culture/team is showing its face in an outstanding way. I’m proud to be Highline’s Head Coach”, said Cooper.
The Pirates will play at home next week in the second round, hosting an as-yet-to-be-determined opponent.
So, as with all things Pirates, joining with League Champs in their charge to each other, “Let your yes be yes, your no be no. Now go home and tell someone you love them.”