Seahawks quarterback J.R. Grosshans completes a hand-off during Fish Bowl 31. Photo: Mindi LaRose

If only one could have floated on the scented air of that crisp fall evening now so distant, riding the smells of baking salmon and burning popcorn through clouds of green and blue hairspray. There were the last rays of sunlight streaming through the uprights at Roy Anderson Field. A big harvest moon pushed its way through the trees at the far end, where the scoreboard counted down time to kickoff. Below were the grandstands packed with parents, alumni and children too small to join the thousands of barely dressed, desperately texting teenagers roaming the venue. The combustive, carnival atmosphere generated by those swarming students would have made Mardi Gras look like a Quaker’s wake. Though every inch of their exposed skin was painted green and gold or blue and yellow, the young fans seemed not to fear or even notice the cold. They were warmed perhaps by the open stares of parents and teachers and principals gazing on their charges with ill-concealed admiration, and even envy. Yet all were connected by the same anxious fusion of hope and dread surrounding this game, a feeling intangible but real to anyone who remembers the incommunicable experience of youth. Seeing all that, then one would know something about Fish Bowl 31.

Gig Harbor has won 17 Fish Bowls since the first game in 1979 and Peninsula 13, including nine straight wins in the 1990s. Gig Harbor won six of the last eight games this decade, including the last two years, shutting out Peninsula 33-0 in 2008. Pundits predicted a close game this year, only reluctantly allowing the Seahawks a small advantage because of a supposed desire for payback, not their 3-1 record. Left out of this equation was the fact that 3A South Puget Sound League Peninsula beat 4A Narrows League Olympia and South Kitsap in summer scrimmages, the same teams that later beat 4A NL Gig Harbor this season (2-2 pre-bowl).

There is also the matter of Peninsula’s quarterback. J.R. Grosshans came into the game leading the 3A SPSL in passing and with 330 rushing yards for eight TDs on 27 attempts. That was more than his own Darrian Creamer (265/46 attempts), the best running back in the league.

Facing them was what KGHP game commentator Alex Benzegala called the Tides’ “three-headed monster”: Barrett Schmidtke (QB), Troy Castle (WR) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (LB/WR), one of the best wide receivers on the West Coast.

From the start, Grosshans had to claw his way up the field, sometimes connecting with a short diagonal blast that would knock a train off its track, but mostly outrunning the defense for little gain. He found Creamer for his first TD reception of the year. That was followed later by a three-point field goal from sophomore Cole Madden (WR). Tides QB Schmidtke threw a floater to Seferian-Jenkins in the second quarter that the 6’7” wide receiver pulled down for the Tides’ single TD on a 14-yard reception. Schmidtke took a hard hit the third quarter by Creamer and limped off the field, but came back to connect with Desmond Ary (WR) despite double coverage and a blitz. Schmidtke finally left the game on crutches, putting Troy Castle at QB for the first time this season. Castle threw simple and effective screen passes to Seferian-Jenkins in a relentless drive that brought the Tides to Peninsula’s two yard line at the top of the fourth quarter, where they were stopped by a hard-hit fumble.

And then there was the 175-pound colossus, Seahawk Geoff Grant (WR/DB), whose performance turned even the righteous into pillars of salt. When he stepped onto the field, Grant had one TD in four games. At Fish Bowl, he scored twice, made a diving interception and recovered a fumble for two of four turnovers. Colossus.

Parsimonious observers attributed Peninsula’s “rout” to Gig Harbor’s mistakes, as if the Tides were not the quality team they are. The truth is simpler: mistakes were made because it was a tough game, not an easy one. Neither team posted the 60- or 90-yard runs they did in their wins the week before.

Ripping off his headset to storm the field in the final seconds of the game, after Peninsula scored its fifth TD, KGHP’s Benzegala rightly said, “The Seahawks are making a statement here.”

Peninsula will be graduating 23 of those Seahawks this spring, those seniors who finally won a Fish Bowl. We must let them go but keep our hairspray close and intone the sports fan’s double-edged oath: “Wait till next year.”

 

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