It was a wet, muddy night on the Knappa football field Friday night, just the way the Neah-Kah-Nie Pirates like it.
By Max Kirkendall
The Pirates journeyed up the coast Oct. 5 for their biggest game of the 2018 season, a battle with the No. 3 ranked Knappa Loggers. Coming into the game with a perfect 5-0 record and averaging 56 points per game, most expected the Loggers to take care of business on their home field.
But not Neah-Kah-Nie.
The Pirates made a statement by blasting Knappa with a 38-14 upset win, their first over the Loggers since 2002.
The big win had the rest of the league and state wondering how the Pirates were able to stymie the explosive Loggers. However, for Neah- Kah-Nie, their combination of a strong rushing attack mixed with a stifling defense has been getting the job done all year and they did not have to stray away from that game plan.
“Defensively we tackled very well,” head coach Chris Bennett said. “Jack Porter and Ben Holm had very good outside containment and flat coverage on passes and our defensive backs also had great coverage and tackled very well.”
Bennett also credits the work of senior linebackers Tucker Champ, Tristan Bennett and junior Kienon Klepper for coming up with big tackles all night and flowing to the ball.
On offense, the Pirates managed to score the most points on the Loggers all season and it was courtesy of strong blocking up front and good running from the Neah- Kah-Nie backs.
“Our offensive line blocked great all night long, but when a hole would close up our ball carriers found openings in the defense,” Bennett said.
The Pirates opened the game with a 45-yard touchdown jaunt by senior Josh Elinsky. Neah-Kah-Nie took advantage of a few Knappa mistakes as the Loggers coughed the ball up twice and had an errant snap over the head of the Knappa punter to give them first-and-goal just before the end of the first half.
Although the wet weather seemed to be effecting the Loggers, it did not seem to be an issue for the Pirates.
“We never turned the ball over, which was a huge part of our win,” Bennett said. “We knew if we could win the turnover battle, we had a good chance to win the game.”
The Pirates used a 30-14 halftime lead to cruise to an easy win. Sophomore Mychal Kelly again led Neah-Kah-Nie on the ground with 192 rushing yards and a score on 28 carries. Tristan Bennett made his return to the field after being sidelined with injury and carried the ball 22 times for 74 yards and two scores and Elinsky eclipsed the 100-yard mark once again with 123 yards, two touchdowns on 18 carries.
The win improves the Pirates record to 5-1 overall, 4-0 in league play and sets them as the outright favorite to win the league this season; a feat that has not been accomplished since 1995.
“We still have a lot to work on, but to go up to Knappa and get a win was absolutely huge for our team,” Bennett said. “They are very well coached and have been at the top of our league for a long time now.”