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FOOTBALL: Second-ranked Eagles overcome mistakes, beat Issaquah, 24-14, in state opener
Things weren't as easy as a lot of people thought for the second-ranked Federal Way High School football team.
Issaquah, the fifth seed from the KingCo League, gave a depleted Federal Way all they could handle Friday night before the Eagles pulled away in the second half for a 24-14 victory at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.
Federal Way, playing without starters Chico McClatcher, Rod Jones and Mike Tate, turned the ball over an amazing six times during the game. Something that hasn't happened to the 10-0 Eagles all season. Federal Way entered the game with a +16 turnover ratio.
"That was really unlike us," said longtime head coach John Meagher. "Obviously, we came out a little tight, which was strange. We didn't practice like that all week and didn't warm up like that."
But the Eagles were able to ride senior running back Zeek McNeal all game long. McNeal, Federal Way's leading rusher all season, finished with a career-best 293 yards, including three runs of over 50 yards and a 65-yard touchdown burst.
"All I could think about is that I didn't want this to be our last game," McNeal said. "It was a gut check."
Next up for the Eagles will be a rematch with the Rogers Rams, an old South Puget Sound League South Division foe, at 7 p.m. Friday night at Federal Way Memorial Stadium. Federal Way beat up the Rams in their season opener, 41-14. A berth into the state quarterfinals will be on the line.
Rogers (6-4) beat Monroe, the second seed from the Wesco Conference, 14-7 Friday night in Monroe.
But Friday night, the Eagles got a big dose of reality on Issaquah's first play from scrimmage. Issaquah tailback, Jack Gelatly, bolted through the middle of the Federal Way defense and raced 80 yards for a touchdown to give the visiting Eagles a quick 7-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game.
"That kid is a great running back," Meagher said about Gelatly, who led the KingCo in rushing with over 1,500 yards. "He's a legit running back."
Following the Gelatly 80-yard TD scamper, the Eagles finally got on the scoreboard with 5:02 remaining in the first half on the strangest play of the night. Junior fullback Eric Ah Fua took a handoff up the middle, but fumbled the ball. It was then picked up by senior offensive lineman Andy Ah Fua, who rumbled 12 yards into the endzone, carrying three Issaquah players over the goal line.
But Issaquah came right back on the next drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 9-yard pass to Reed Peterson to take a 14-7 lead with 2:26 remaining in the half.
After Federal Way brought the kickoff back to the 35 yard line, McNeal tallied his only touchdown of the night on a 65-yard run around the right side of the defense to tie the game back up at 14-14 late in the half.
"I was ready for the load with Rod and Chico out," McNeal said. "But we had a lot of guys step up for us tonight."
The second half is when the normally stout Federal Way defense stepped up. In the final two quarters, the Eagles' allowed Issaquah to run only 12 plays from scrimmage. Federal Way forced four Issaquah three-and-outs, including an interception from senior defensive back Aaron Persinger.
"I was really proud of our defense," Meagher said. "They basically held a very tough team to seven points, not counting that 80-yard run to start the game."
Federal Way took the lead for good after the Persinger interception gave the Eagles the ball on Issaquah's 23-yard line. Senior J.J. McNeal tallied his first rushing touchdown of the year on a 5-yard run through the middle of the Issaquah defense to put Federal Way up 21-14 with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles got some insurance with 7:36 remaining in the fourth quarter on a big 27-yard field goal by senior Koby Craig.
But Issaquah's Derek Chapman took the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. However, a holding call on the return negated the touchdown and brought the ball back all the way to the Federal Way 19-yard line. The Eagle defense then held Issaquah to another three-and-out and forced a punt. Federal Way's offense than used 13-straight rushing plays to run the final six minutes of the game.
Meagher hopes to have McClatcher, Jones and Tate back next week against Rogers, he said. McClatcher has been battling an illness and also missed the Eagles' regular-season ending win over Curtis. Jones and Tate didn't play against Issaquah for disciplinary reasons.
"I'm very proud of how our kids hung in there tonight," Meagher said. "Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong early. We just kind of weathered the storm."