A young Grays Harbor Bearcats squad experienced growing pains during Saturday night’s season-opening contest against the Portland Monarchs, but not the thrill of victory.
The Monarchs took advantage of a special teams mistake and a pass interference penalty to set up their only scoring drives of the game in a 12-0 Pacific Football League non-division win over the Bearcats at Stewart Field.
Although not the kind of start Grays Harbor wanted for the 2014 season, players and staff saw potential and growth throughout Saturday’s game.
“I hate to be pleased after a loss, but tonight, there were some really good signs from this team,” Grays Harbor head coach Todd Hoiness said. “We’re young. We have a young defense, but with a ton of speed. There are a lot of things we need to work on. Someone said that we have a lot of promise and we do. I love the competitive spirit from these guys.”
Neither team could mount more than one long drive against the other’s defense on this cold, slick night. The Bearcats had the longest drive of the game, an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended on a muffed field-goal attempt in the second quarter.
Other than that, it was a defensive game.
Grays Harbor linebacker/punter Daniel Brown had trouble getting a handle on the wet football early on. He muffed the first punt attempt of the game, but recovered and returned the ball for a net 2-yard gain. His second muff, however, was a lost fumble that set up the Monarchs at the Bearcats’ 6-yard line.
After two running plays, Portland quarterback Phil DuPont hit wide receiver Russell Millage for a 4-yard touchdown pass play. The point-after attempt failed for a 6-0 score.
Portland returned on its next possession with its longest drive of the game, a six-play, 43-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call that put it on the Grays Harbor 5-yard line. On the next play, DuPont found wide receiver Tre Moreland for a 5-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch for a 12-0 first-quarter lead.
The hosts found some confidence during their 11-play march in the second quarter. They also benefited from several Portland penalties to move down the field. Veteran Grays Harbor running back Cameron Smith had his longest run of the game in the drive, a 16-yard smashing blast into Monarch territory. Smith finished with 42 yards rushing on eight attempts.
Bearcat quarterback Loyal Linton had his moments against the Monarchs. With only four practices under center before the game, the Aberdeen product evaded several pass rushers all night and was only sacked three times, including a slip-and-fall late in the game. Linton finished with 76 yards passing on 10-of-28 attempts and one interception. North Beach grad Derek Archer caught four of Linton’s passes for 43 yards to lead the team.
“It started with some bad field position, the wind blowing sideways and the snaps getting away from us,” Hoiness said. “The guys fought really hard. We had three touchdown plays where we just couldn’t get them to hook up, a breakdown here or there. Loyal did a great job at quarterback for just four practices.”
The entire second half was played in the middle of the field, with the defenses not allowing either team to gain momentum offensively. Grays Harbor’s Brown, Jerry Mancuso, Chris Cook, Colby Raffelson and Eric Dayton each made key plays on defense to stifle Portland.
Safety Jack Traxtle plucked an interception for the only Portland turnover, while Raffelson, Cook and Brown each had a quarterback sack.
“We threw a lot of guys into the fire tonight and they all responded competitively,” Hoiness said. “We had some breakdowns. I’m glad we have next week off, because we can get healthy and we could use a few more practices to get everyone going. We got better as the game went on and you could see that.”
On April 19, Grays Harbor returns to action with another non-division matchup against the Portland Raiders at Stewart Field.
Portland 12 0 0 0 — 12
Grays Harbor 0 0 0 0 — 0
P — Millage 4 TD pass from DuPont (pass failed).
P — Moreland 5 TD pass from DuPont (run failed).
First Downs: Portland 10, Grays Harbor 9.
Rushing Yards: Portland 96, Grays Harbor (minus)-6.
Passing Yards: Portland 81, Grays Harbor 76.
Total Net Yards: Portland 177, Grays Harbor 70.
Passing: Portland 9-23, 1 INT; Grays Harbor 10-28, 1 INT.
Fumbles Lost: Portland 0, Grays Harbor 1.
Penalties: Portland 13-128, Grays Harbor 4-36.