Two weeks of preseason games taught the Grays Harbor Bearcats they’re still a work in progress.
Tonight’s Pacific Football League regular-season opener against rival Yakima Mavericks is just another step in that progress for the Bearcats, but now the games count for real.
Kickoff at Stewart Field is at 6 p.m. Free tickets are available at four locations — GHUnders (717 K St. Hoquiam), Simpson Ave. Grill in Hoquiam; Washington Tractor in Central Park; Montesano 76 Station — for the game.
“(Tonight) is going to be super competitive,” Grays Harbor head coach Todd Hoiness said. “Yakima and Grays Harbor has had a pretty good rivalry and it’ll be intense. They’re tough. I think we are, too. It should be a fun game.”
Hoiness noted that Grays Harbor and Yakima are in similar situations — both teams lost a lot of players from past seasons and are going through a youth movement this time around.
“Yakima reminds me of us,” Hoiness added. “They seem to be looking for the same things we are. We’re still not sure where we are. We know what we want to, but we just haven’t done it yet. We’ll get better at it.”
The Bearcats have shuffled players on all three units — offense, defense, special teams — for this game, but will have the majority of their main starters playing. This includes several new players who made their debuts last week against the Portland Raiders.
Former Seattle Stallions quarterback Leo Dickerson took some snaps during the Raiders and will start for the Bearcats against the Mavericks. The strong-armed quarterback is still learning the offense, according to Hoiness, so quarterback/wide receiver Loyal Linton will play to help in the transition.
Linton started behind center for the two preseason games and threw for 175 yards on 16-of-44 attempts, one touchdown and one interception.
“He’s a winner and has won whereever he’s been at,” Hoiness said of Dickerson. “He has a fantastic arm and can flat throw it. We have to become comfortable with his reads and we’ll have Loyal help out (in translating the offense). We’re also going to incorporate some of the stuff he’s done before. He’s a leader and the guys really like him. It’ll be fun.”
Another new player for the Bearcats, Marcus Brooks, will play at running back and will return kickoffs and punts, which he did against the Raiders. Brooks ripped off a 52-yard kickoff return during the game. Newcomer Fred Hawthorne will join Brooks on kickoffs and punts and will start at free safety.
“We really picked up on special teams last week; I really liked that,” Hoiness added. “Marcus is very quick and Fred is speedy, a big-time safety.”
Defensively, the Bearcats will field a few new players and others in different spots, but will have the starting foundation on hand.
All-league linebacker Dan Brown is unavailable for the game, so running back Filipo Cournoyer will move to linebacker. A new player this season, Artinez Kelly, who played for the Bearcats three seasons ago and played for the Stallions last year, will see time at linebacker as well.
The Raiders threw for 386 yards in last week’s preseason game, but as defensive coordinator/co-owner Chris Raffelson noted, the Bearcats shuffled in players throughout the game.
Now with the regular season upon them, the Bearcats have locked in their defense.
In the secondary, Hawthorne will start at free safety, with Jerry Mancuso at strong safety and Chase Raines at weak safety. Jeremy Walker and newcomer Jason Meyers will be on the corners, with Daniel Hargrove and Nathan Raffelson rotating in on the corners.
“We treated (the Raiders game) as a preseason game; this is our starting defense,” Chris Raffelson said. “That’s why Fred is moving to free safety and guys are moving to their spots. A lot of guys got work in different spots over the last two weeks and we have new guys coming in to play as well.”
Defensive end Harry Petersen was suspended by the league for one game for a late hit and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Offensive lineman Shayne Dayton was also suspended one game by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct, weakening an already thin offensive line corps. Long-time Bearcat safety Jack Traxtle has left the team by mutual consent.
Ten-year veteran linebacker Jesse Cardenas leads the Mavericks’ defense again this season. Another 10-year veteran, quarterback Alex Mahre, is also back with the Mavericks, who are stocked full of younger players this season.
Cardenas isn’t the only veteran returning to the Yakima defense — linebacker B.J. Quinn and defensive linemen Frank DeLaRoza and Anthony Horner are also back.
In their first preseason game last week, the Mavericks stayed close before the Bellingham Bulldogs pulled away for a 40-24 win.
Linebacker Ryan Wright led the defense with 12 tackles and one sack, Mahre threw for just 93 yards and running back Trevon Harris ran for 89 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Wright also caught three passes for 57 yards and one score.
The Mavericks finished with six sacks on the Bulldogs, led by two from Quinn and one from Horner.