In the end, it was only fitting that the Ferndale defense ended up making the game-winning play Friday night in a top-10 showdown between 3A Wesco North unbeatens. Throughout the first half, all the defensive unit did was keep the Golden Eagles in the game against Oak Harbor, after the offense turned the ball over five times – three by fumble and two via interceptions.
So, with Ferndale clinging to a one-point lead in overtime after Tamarik Hollins-Passmore answered Cole Semu’s 5-yard touchdown run with one of his own, the Wildcats tried testing Ferndale’s defense one more time, electing to go for a 2-point conversion and the win, rather than kicking a potential game-tying extra point.
“Last play, everybody’s got to do their job – everybody’s got to believe we can win it,” Ferndale senior lineman Mikhail Varetsky said.
And win it they did. Varetsky and the Ferndale line did a good job of getting pressure on Oak Harbor quarterback Jordan Bell, forcing him to rush and over throw Andrew Miller in the left side of the end zone, as No. 2 Ferndale held on for a thrilling 29-28 win over eight-ranked Oak Harbor.
“For our guys to keep rallying like that, it shows a lot about our character,” Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich said.
The Golden Eagles (7-0, 4-0 3A Wesco North) now have the inside track to their first league title since moving to the Wesco last year. A win next week against Squalicum would clinch at least a tie for the crown and would likely give Ferndale the North division’s top seed into the 3A quad-district playoffs.
Despite it’s first-half struggles, Ferndale trailed only 14-9 at halftime and managed to take a 15-14 lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to a 4-yard touchdown run by Semu with 4:27 left in the third.
The Golden Eagles made that lead stand through the rest of the third and early parts of the fourth, until Oak Harbor put together a nice drive that reached the Ferndale 28. But two straight Bell incompletions on third and fourth down gave the ball back to Ferndale – the fifth time the Ferndale defense, which also had a first-quarter safety, forced a turnover on downs – with 6:23 to play.
“Our defense held them to (four)-and-outs and just put their foot down tonight,” said Semu, who along with Jacob Broselle surpassed 100 yards rushing Friday.
The Golden Eagles then started a methodical drive and appeared ready to completely salt the game away before Semu broke around left end from 33 yards out for his second of three TDs, capping the 72-yard, 10-play drive that consumed 4:41 and left just 1:42 on the clock. The extra point made it 22-14.
But on Oak Harbor’s third play on the ensuing drive, Bell hit Kyle Nickols in stride, and he raced 43 yards to the Ferndale 16. A penalty on the play set up the Wildcats at the 8. Three plays later, Mackenzie Nuanez, whom Ferndale limited to 45 yards on 20 carries, bulled his way in from a yard out.
Ferndale nearly ended the game on the 2-point conversion attempt, as a blitzer almost got Bell, but he managed to get a hurried pass off to Nickols to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime.
But after scoring on the first possession of overtime, the Golden Eagles got a second chance to stand tall defensively, and they certainly answered the call.
“We just kept battling to the end,” Plenkovich said. “We gave up some big plays, and you have to give credit to Oak Harbor. They fought and played hard all night long. This is a heck of a win for us.”