Bearcats use tough defense to win league opener

VANCOUVER — Thanks to an opportunistic defense, a slow offensive start wasn’t fatal for the Grays Harbor Bearcats.

Doing all its scoring in the final 31 minutes, the Bearcats opened the Pacific Football League regular season with a 22-7 win over the Clark County Vipers on Saturday night at Kiggins Bowl.

The Bearcats (1-0, 2-0) didn’t generate much offense until their final drive of the first half. Their defense, however, forced six turnovers to hold the Vipers in check.

“Until our offense got going, it kept us in the game,” Grays Harbor coach Todd Hoiness said. “After that, we settled down.”

Spotting the Vipers a 7-0 lead, the Bearcats rallied to tie it on David Evans’ 13-yard pass to Jeremy Walker with eight seconds remaining in the first half. Walker made a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone and came down with both feet inbounds. Heledio Sanchez kicked the conversion.

Jeff Gates’ 4-yard TD run and Evans’ 2-point conversion pass to Chris Cook with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter gave Grays Harbor the lead for good at 15-7.

The Bearcats added an insurance touchdown later in the quarter on Evans’ 4-yard pass to Chris Jackson.

Evans completed 13 of 25 passes for 210 yards. Eight different Bearcats had pass receptions, with Jackson catching six for 105 yards.

The target of Clark County’s defensive alignment, Gates rushed for 63 yards on 16 carries and played well, according to Hoiness, to reach that total.

Safeties Loyal Linton and Jerry Mancuso led Grays Harbor’s defensive effort.

“Between the two of them, they probably had a dozen or so big plays,” Hoiness noted.

The Bearcats were without several regulars due to injuries and work commitments — a factor that may have figured into their slow start.

Grays Harbor will return home Saturday to host the Portland Raiders in a 6 p.m. contest at Stewart Field.