Ferndale senior Cole Semu entered Friday’s Class 3A first-round state playoff against Bethel just two touchdowns short of tying the school career record.
On just his first carry of the game, it appeared he’d have a chance to get at least one of them, as he rolled around the right side of the line, bulled over a Braves defender that got in his way and sprinted down the south sideline at Civic Stadium.
In a split second, the 55-yard run, the touchdown record – even the game – took on a whole lot less significance, as Semu lay stretched out at the Bethel 15 after a Braves defender fell on the back of Semu’s left leg, causing what appeared to be a significant injury to his ankle or lower leg.
Semu was helped up, but didn’t put an weight on the leg, and many of the suddenly silent Ferndale faithful may have missed James Hinson finding Reid Benson for a 6-yard TD for the first points of the game, craning their necks instead to focus on Semu being tended to behind the Ferndale bench and then carried to an ambulance, acknowledging the home stands on the way.
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“We came off a big run, and then the guy who gives us all the big runs goes out of the game,” Hinson said. “We needed to step up after that.”
Hinson made sure his team did just that, as settle it down and guide the Golden Eagles to their first state playoff victory since 2008, beating Bethel 42-14.
Though it showed it could win with out him, Semu’s loss certainly stunned Ferndale (11-0).
“You’ve got to realize it’s going to take a minute,” Hinson said. “Cole’s one of our best friends. He’s been our best friend forever. It’s going to take a minute – take a couple drives – to calm down. You’ve got to patient with it.”
Bethel (9-2) only saw opportunity.
While the Golden Eagles’ next three drives ended with a pair of punts sandwiched around a bad snap that the Braves were able to recover in Ferndale territory, the Braves capitalized to take the lead on Nate Hughes’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Peter Latu and 8-yard scoring toss to Omar Merriweather.
But just went the Braves appeared to be taking control of the game, Hinson helped refocus his team on the task at hand.
He did some of it with his legs, rushing for 61 yards on six first-half carries. And he did some of it with his arm finding a wide-open Conner Obergottsberger over the middle for a 34-yard TD to tie the game with 7:29 left in the first half.
“They called my number,” Hinson said, “and I just tried to make the best of what I was called to do.”
That’s all the Golden Eagles needed.
Before the half was over, Bryan Ebe scored the first of his three touchdowns to put the Golden Eagles up 21-14. He added his second on the opening drive of the second half, before Hinson made the play of the game.
Down by two TDs, Hughes, who passed for 342 yards, guided the Braves to the Ferndale 27 and found Merriweather on a corner route at the 1.
“I saw his eyes get big, saw his hands go up, so I put my hands up where his hands were,” said Hinson, who in coverage on the lay. “He caught the ball, and we fought for it. I was able to strip it out, and it went out of the end zone.”
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Gabe Zwade’s 10-yard run put Ferndale up 35-21, and after Hinson intercepted Hughes, the third TD by Ebe, who finished with 111 yards on 18 carries, put the game away.
With the win Ferndale will host O’Dea, a 55-21 first-round winner over Mercer Island, in a rematch of last year’s first-round game won by the Irish.
But for now, Ferndale’s just going to enjoy this one. And the celebration started by remembering their teammate, as they broke down by yelling, “Cole!” after the post-game handshake.
“He’s been a workhorse for us all year,” Hinson said. “It’s just a bummer to see him go down. We’re praying for the best for him.”