Keenan Fagan scored three touchdowns and the White River defense mounted a stellar goal-line stand Friday night to turn back the visiting Orting Cardinals 26-21 as the Hornets improved to 2-0 in South Puget Sound League 2A play.
The victory pushed White River’s overall record to 3-1 and produced the type of excitement generally reserved for postseason action. Fans rushed onto the field and the team eventually headed to the bleachers to lead the student section in the school fight song.
Aside from padding their resume with a hard-fought victory, the outcome also offered a bit of sweet revenge. The Hornets dropped a close encounter a year ago on the Cards’ home turf.
The game didn’t start well for White River, as the Hornets recovered a pair of first-quarter Orting fumbles but couldn’t capitalize. Making things worse, the Cardinals’ Justin Kennett scooped up a punt and motored 90 yards for the game’s opening touchdown.
White River’s offense moved backward too often during the early going, with quarterback Sean Hayes getting constant pressure.
The doldrums were immediately snapped, however, when Fagan raced 41 yards to paydirt. An extra-point attempt flew a bit wide and the quarter ended with the visitors on top 7-6.
Orting quickly pushed its lead to 14-6 when Eddie Prong crossed the plane on a quarterback sneak. The Hornets had showed the type of goal-line resolve that paid dividends later, stopping the Cards on three plays before Prong muscled his way into the end zone.
White River’s second TD came courtesy of the defense, as linebacker Tristan Knaus picked up an Orting fumble and nearly scored. It took three plays, but the Hornets capitalized with Hayes found Dustin France open in the end zone for a 5-yard scoring toss.
White River remained on the short end when a two-point attempt was stuffed, leaving the score 14-12.
Twenty seconds later, the Cardinals pushed their lead to 21-12 when Devin Casey took off on a 41-yard scoring jaunt.
In need of a big play, the Hornets succeeded. Early in the final period, Hayes rolled right and connected with Fagan, who took a pass in stride and outraced Orting defenders on the way to a 76-yard score.
France’s PAT cut the deficit to 21-19 and set the stage for some late-game heroics.
First, the Hornet defense turned back the Cards on a fourth-down play, giving the ball to the rejuvenated White River offense. The Hornets’ not-so-secret plan was simply to hand the ball to Fagan, who started the drive with a 42-yard burst. Two more carries took the ball to the 9-yard line and – with slightly less than two minutes remaining to be played – Fagan dashed around the left end to give the Hornets their first lead of the night.
France added another extra-point kick and, while the game’s final points had been scored, the drama was far from over.
Orting’s Prong completed a pair of crucial passes, including a fourth-down strike to Daniel Bessey that had the Cards knocking on the door. From the two-yard line, Orting twice tried to run the ball, only to be rebuffed by Hornet defenders. Prong was forced to spike the ball to stop the clock, setting the stage for a final play. When his last-chance pass was tipped and fell harmlessly to the ground, the Hornets could finally breathe easy.
Hayes had only to take a knee to run out the clock and set off the celebration.
Fagan had a monster night, carrying the ball 18 times for 170 yards, averaging 9.4 yards per effort. In addition, he had two pass receptions, was in on 14 tackles from his linebacker position, recovered a fumble and picked off an Orting pass.
For the season, Fagan has totaled 454 yards on 54 carries, spread over four games.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Hornets, who travel Friday to Fife where they will battle the unbeaten Trojans. Fife has defeated both Clover Park and Washington in SPSL 2A play and, in four games, has outscored opponents 126-19.