It was a day for defense last Friday in Chewelah as the Cougars celebrated homecoming with a 21-0 victory over the visiting Freeman Scotties to gain sole possession of first place in the current league standings.
The Chewelah defense intercepted five Freeman passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also recovered a Scottie fumble. Those six turnovers took the wind out of Freeman’s sails and helped the Cougars make good on an early 21-0 lead.
With this win, Chewelah became the lone Northeast A League team to remain undefeated in conference play with a 4-0 record. Over the past two weeks, the Cougars have upended their two biggest contenders for the league championship, Medical Lake and Freeman.
Remaining on their league schedule for the Cougars are a game at Newport this coming Friday and a home game against Riverside the following Friday. Both teams are 1-3 in league play.
The Cougars scored all of their points in the first 20 minutes of the game. They received the opening kickoff and marched 62 yards to score their first touchdown with Derek Smith and Cordell Bean alternating carries. Smith finished the scoring drive with a five-yard run across the goal line. The extra-point kick by Ty Curtis gave Chewelah a 7-0 lead with 7:57 remaining in the first quarter.
Chewelah’s second touchdown came only 59 seconds later. Freeman received Curtis’s kickoff and ran one running play. On the second play, Caleb Wiebe intercepted their pass and rambled 45 yards for another Cougar touchdown. The extra-point run failed, but the Cougars now had a 13-0 lead with 6:58 left to play in the first quarter.
The third Chewelah touchdown came four minutes into the second quarter after Dustin Olson recovered a Freeman fumble at midfield. Seven plays later, a completed 29-yard pass from Smith to Wiebe gave the Cougars a first down on Freeman’s five-yard line. Smith then connected with Crowell on an eight-yard throw into the endzone for the touchdown. The two-point conversion run by Smith gave Chewelah a 21-0 lead with 8:00 left to play in the first half.
This was Chewelah’s last touchdown of the game. Like in past games this season, the Cougars turned to their defense to protect a wide lead. And, of course, the defense responded favorably to the task.
“We stayed with our basic formations and plays,” said Coach Fisk. “As long as we had control of the game, we were not going to have our more sophisticated plays recorded on film for future opponents to see.”
There were still 32 minutes of football remaining in the game, but Freeman was not allowed to score. During this time, the Cougars intercepted four more Scottie passes to minimize Freeman’s scoring opportunities.
In the end, the Cougar defense did not allow Freeman to enter the red zone. The closest the Scotties came to the endzone was on the final play of the game when time ran out at the Cougar 20-yard line.
The Scotties had five passes intercepted, lost one fumble, punted five times, turned the ball over on downs once, and ran out of time.
By the end of the game, the Cougars had made four quarterback sacks and seven tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Olson finished the game with three sacks, and Blake Owens had one. Tackles behind the line of scrimmage were made by Ben Johnstone, Tommy Norman, Hunter Daniels, Owens, Olson, and Crowell. Owens also batted down a Freeman pass.
The Chewelah defense gave up only three long plays during the game—a 44-yard pass, a 41- yard pass, and a 35-yard run— none of which yielded a Freeman touchdown.
“I think we have the best defensive secondary in the league,” said Fisk. “It’s probably the best secondary we’ve had since I’ve been here. Five interceptions in one ballgame is exceptional. Still, even the best safety or corner is going to get burned once in awhile, and Freeman burned us twice, but we still did not let them score.”
The game turned into a defensive standoff in the second half. That was good for the Cougars, who had a 21-point lead, but not so good for Freeman. That was especially true with the return of Chewelah all-league linebacker Ben Johnstone back in uniform after a three-week recovery from a knee injury.
Johnstone made a team-high nine tackles and reclaimed his former place at the top of the season tackle chart after a three-week recovery.
Freeman needed to score in the second half. That never happened because of the dominating performance made by the Cougar defense. Because of the aggressive play on defense of both teams, there was no scoring in the second half and not a lot of yardage gained by either team.
“The only statistic we care about is the final score,” said Coach Fisk. “Sure, it’s always more fun for the kids when we have 400 yards of offense, but the only statistic that really matters is the score at the end of the game.
Besides, it’s always nice when our defense can play as well as it did Friday night. We don’t have to score a lot of points when our defense plays like that.”
This Friday, the Cougars travel over the mountain to Newport to play the Grizzlies. Newport has a new coach this year who was formerly a member of the Deer Park coaching staff. So, the Grizzlies run the Deer Park offense and defense.
Newport comes into this game with a 2-4 overall record, 1-3 in league play. That league win was a 31-21 victory over Riverside. The Grizzlies lost to Lakeside last Friday night, 52-14.
But, like Coach Pat Gaffney always says, “The most important game of the season is the next one you play,” So, the Cougars cannot take any opponent lightly.
Kickoff time at Newport this Friday night is at 7:00.
Northeast A League
Chewelah 4 – 0
Medical Lake 4 – 1
Freeman 3 – 1
Lakeside 2 – 3
Riverside 1 – 3
Newport 1 – 3
Kettle Falls 0 – 4
Last week’s games
Chewelah 21, Freeman 0
Lakeside 52, Newport 14
Medical Lake 28, Kettle Falls 14
St. Maries 25, Riverside 20
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Snagging a pass intended for Freeman, Senior Braeton Dainty-Flanagan #83 keeps the momentum of the game alive with this interception. He runs it up the field assisted by Trey Barnett #82 and Ben Johnstone #44 who airlifts Freeman #3! Kim Johnstone photo