Gig Harbor Tides survive Interlake Saints rally

The Interlake Saints football team had two chances to take the lead against the Gig Harbor Tides in the final three minutes of regulation in a winner-to-state, loser-out playoff football game.

Interlake senior quarterback Duncan Varela, who had moved the chains by converting three first downs on third down with his legs on the drive, fumbled at Gig Harbor’s five-yard line. Gig Harbor recovered the ball at its own four-yard line, halting the Saints scoring opportunity with 2:08 left in the game.

On Gig Harbor’s ensuing offensive possession, Interlake’s defense forced a punt after three plays. The Saints got the ball back near midfield with 1:00 left in regulation with no timeouts. On the Saints’ first play, Varela was sacked by Gig Harbor’s Michael Labadie for an eight-yard loss. As the seconds slowly trickled off the clock, Varela hustled to the line and got a snap off with 30 seconds left in the game. He hoisted a deep pass down the middle of the field intended for Interlake No. 1 receiver Naoki Harmer. Harmer was double covered on the play and the ball was intercepted by Gig Harbor defensive back Mark Kimball to seal the Tides 14-13 victory against the Saints on Nov. 5 at Interlake High School in Bellevue. There was contact between one of Gig Harbor’s other defensive backs and Harmer when the ball was in the air, but no penalty was called as Harmer fell to the turf.

Gig Harbor head coach Aaron Chantler was thrilled to see his defense create two takeaways in the final minutes of the game.

“Obviously the two big turnovers at the end were huge. Who knows what happens if they don’t fumble on that drive when they were going in to score. Our defense did a really good job. I’m really proud of the way they stepped up tonight,” Chantler said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them right now.”

Chantler said the sack by Labadie and the pick by Kimball on Interlake’s last drive was special for his team.

“That sack right there probably did it. To get that sack and then the pick on the same drive was huge. Their quarterback (Varela) is a really good athlete and No. 1 (Harmer) was all over the field tonight. Interlake fought their butts off all night long,” he said.

Interlake head coach Brian Hartline didn’t hesitate to put the ball in Varela’s hands with the game on the line.

“In my opinion, Duncan is the most valuable player I have seen in KingCo (league) this year. He is a warrior and he is tough as nails,” Hartline said of Varela. “You put the ball in the best kids hands. He is trying to make a play. It is unfortunate the way it came up but I don’t regret the decision one bit. I’d do it all over again.”

Interlake finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 7-4.

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