Big moments from Mountain View’s defense early in the game were key for the Thunder
They set the tone from their very first play on defense.
They set the tone for the game.
Perhaps for the league.
And if all goes their way, they set the tone for November, too.
By the end of Friday night’s victory for the Mountain View Thunder, there were a total of 66 points scored in the rivalry game against Evergreen. The scoreboard might not have looked like there was a defensive gem on the field at McKenzie Stadium, but you just had to be there.
You had to be there to see Xavier Frazier get a sack on Evergreen’s first offensive snap.
You had to be there to see Florian Berani get a third-down sack on that opening drive, leading to an Evergreen punt.
Later in the first quarter, you had to be there to see Kingston McPherson’s open-field tackle on a speedy Evergreen receiver.
You had to be there early in the second quarter when Ayden Denbo got a tackle and stripped the Evergreen ball carrier, allowing Akili Kamau to pick up the fumble and score a defensive touchdown for the Thunder.
And late in the first half, it was another sack from Berani, and another from Frazier, ending an Evergreen drive and giving Mountain View the ball one more time before halftime, a possession that ended with three more points for the Thunder.
It all added up to a 39-27 victory for the Thunder to open league play in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League.
“It’s energy,” Denbo said of the key to victory. “Once we built that momentum, there was nothing they could do to stop us because we’ve got the energy moving forward to be confident.”
One team’s confidence can lead to another team’s insecurity.
“We just served our dominance on them,” Berani said of that first quarter. “We just tried to ruin their confidence.”
Mountain View had the ball first in this game, and had a decent drive going, but a miscue here and there ended in a loss of downs.
Mountain View’s defense was ready.
“I told Cash, ‘We got you. Don’t worry about the mistakes. We’ve got you,’” Frazier recalled telling Mountain View quarterback Cash Cook after the Thunder’s first drive. “And we did it. The whole defense did. Everybody did it.”
McPherson had a textbook open-field tackle in the early going, too.
“It was all teamwork,” McPherson said. “We were all playing as 11. We weren’t playing as one person. We were playing as one unit. That helped us succeed and finish this out.”
Mountain View led 8-0 early in the second quarter when the defense did more than just stop Evergreen. The defense put points on the board, as well.
“I’ve been watching film on the scouting report,” Denbo said. “I’ve got all their plays memorized, so when I saw their guard pulling, I knew it was a toss. I just barrelled down and hit him, punched it out.”
Denbo said he was trying to scramble toward the ball, but Kamau was quicker.
“Akili’s a dog,” Denbo said.
“I knew it was mine, so I had to go get it,” Kamau said of the loose ball on the turf. “I didn’t even know I was going to score. I just cut back, and it was open.”
It was a 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 15-0 lead for the Thunder.
Still, this is Evergreen. The Plainsmen weren’t just going to go away because they trailed by two touchdowns early in the second quarter. This is the same Evergreen team that scored 62 and 43 points in Weeks 2 and 3 of this season.
The Plainsmen responded with their best drive of the night, scoring to make it 15-8. Then Evergreen connected on the perfect squib kick that took two wild, chaotic bounces, as if the football was trying to avoid the Mountain View return team. Evergreen recovered, and quarterback Jayden Crace scored on a 14-yard keeper to tie the game, his second TD run in 17 game seconds.
Mountain View’s defense took a few body shots right there from a quality opponent.
The Thunder withstood those blows and bounced right back. In fact, Mountain View scored on its next possession — Porter Drake with a 48-yard touchdown run — and recovered a surprise onside kick and scored again to go up 29-15 on Drake’s third TD run of the half.
Evergreen’s final possession of the half ended thanks to a couple of Mountain View sacks. In punt formation, the Plainsmen went for a fake, but Mountain View’s Aiden Nicholson saw it coming and intercepted the pass with 16 seconds left in the half.
That was plenty of time for Mountain View’s offense to get into field-goal range, and Owen Purvis was true on a 35-yarder to make it 32-15.
The teams were scoreless in the third quarter. Cash Cook scored on a keeper for Mountain View to make it 39-15 early in the fourth.
Evergreen would manage two touchdowns — Crace with his third rushing TD of the game, and a TD pass from Crace to Anthony Lamberth — but never got it to a one-possession game.
Late into Friday night, Mountain View could celebrate its fourth win in a row to move to 4-1 overall, and 1-0 in the 3A GSHL.
“The job is not finished. That’s it. We’ve just got to keep working,” Berani said.
“We’re off to a good start, but we’ve got to focus on our next game,” Frazier added.
Denbo, too, was careful to say too much, considering there are three league games remaining for the Thunder. Still, he acknowledged, this victory was special.
“I can’t sleep on the rest of the teams in our league, but everyone picked Evergreen to win over us, and look where we are now,” Denbo said.
Rivalry notes: This was the 50th meeting between Evergreen and Mountain View, a series that started in 1982. And yes, we know that is less than 50 years ago. But there were several seasons when the teams played each other twice a year. … Mountain View leads the series 28-22. … Evergreen won last year’s matchup 20-14. … “They talk about us versus Union is big, but I think this is bigger,” Denbo said. This is, after all, a league game. “Everyone’s buzzing,” he said of the atmosphere at school the week of the Evergreen game. “Even if they know nothing about football, they’re going to come to this game.”
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