All the little things added up for the Tahoma High football team last Thursday night at French Field.
Quarterback Heyden Johnson remained in a groove. Chris Marangon continued to find just enough running room. And once again, the Bears’ bend-but-don’t-break defense came up big in critical situations.
Johnson threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns, Marangon added 128 yards and a pair of scores, and linebacker Nick Bayer forced two turnovers, leading Tahoma past Kentwood in a South Puget Sound League North Division game, 28-14.
“We just keep climbing, keep getting better,” said wide receiver Stone Connell, who caught seven passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and who also recovered a Kentwood fumble on the Conks’ third play of the game. “This win is huge. It’s a huge boost for us.”
With the victory, the Bears (3-0) remained tied atop the North with Kentlake (3-0) and Auburn (3-0). Tahoma plays host to Kent-Meridian on Friday at Maxwell Stadium and will be looking to move to 4-0 in league play for the first time since 2006, which was the last time the Bears won the North crown.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Kentwood (0-2, 1-2), which turned the ball over four times against the Bears in a game coach Rex Norris referred to as “a night of errors.”
Kentwood, a program which has never finished with a losing record, hasn’t been two games under .500 since 2004, Norris’ first year as head coach. After that early-season blip, the Conquerors rolled off nine straight wins and advanced to the state playoffs.
“I think we’ve probably had one of the tougher three-game starts in the state and our record proves it,” Norris said, referring to the 8-1 combined mark of Kentwood’s three previous opponents — Kennedy, Auburn and Tahoma. “We’ve been in this position before and we’re going to continue to circle the wagons and keep battling.”
Turnovers hurt Kentwood from the beginning. Tahoma’s Connell converted Kentwood’s first fumble into points just moments into the game. After recovering the fumble on defense, Connell turned around and caught a 30-yard touchdown strike from Johnson one play later, giving Tahoma a 7-0 lead with less than two minutes off the clock.
But Kentwood didn’t back down, ripping off an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended the first quarter and began the second quarter. Running back Steven Warner capped the drive with a 21-yard touchdown run off the left tackle, tying the game at 7-7.
Johnson, who finished Week 2 by completing his final six passes in a come-from-behind victory against Auburn Riverside, then showed the Conquerors what kind of groove he has been in lately. He led Tahoma on a 13-play, 86-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown run by Josiah Anderson. The extra point failed, but the Bears still had a 13-7 halftime lead.
Johnson keyed the score by connecting with a double-covered Connell on a 40-yard pass play down the middle on a third-and-4.
“The offensive line is doing a phenomenal job and the receivers are catching everything I throw to them,” said Johnson, who connected on 6 of his first 7 passes against Kentwood. “Marangon, Connell, Cameron Balliett … all of those guys have hands I have never played with before.”
With 2:28 remaining in the third quarter, it was Kentwood’s turn to take advantage of a miscue as defensive back Tristan Askew picked up a botched Tahoma snap and rumbled 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Conquerors a 14-13 lead.
That lead, however, would be short-lived thanks to some Tahoma trickery.
Staring at a fourth-and-5 on the Kentwood 48, Tahoma’s Marangon pulled off a picture-perfect fake punt, going around the left side for a 28-yard gain and a first down.
“I know when (coach Tony Davis) calls it, that we’re going to get it,” Marangon said. “He’s not going to call it unless he knows we’re going to get it. So I had to do my job and get those yards.”
Marangon wasn’t done.
Three plays after converting — and after a big sack by Kentwood’s Warner, resulting in an 11-yard loss — Johnson magically eluded the grasp of Conks linebacker Henry Everett, rolled out to his right and found Marangon all alone in the right corner of the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown and a 19-14 lead. Johnson then found Connell on the two-point conversion, pushing Tahoma’s advantage to 21-14.
“I saw Chris waving his hands in the end zone saying, ‘Throw it to me. Throw it to me,’” Johnson said. “So I had to give him the ball.”
Norris later lamented not defending the fake punt better.
“That was a really big play on the fake punt,” he said. “I didn’t call timeout. I was thinking about it.”
Bayer then forced fumbles on each of Kentwood’s next two possessions, the first recovered by Marc Ragan and the second by Tyler Phippen. The second forced fumble and led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Marangon, which helped the Bears seal the victory.
“(Kentwood was) rolling at times, really the whole night,” Davis said. “And I think when we were able to get those turnovers, we were able to take their momentum and give it to us.”