Saints defeat Mustangs in tiebreaker playoff game

Big plays in all three phases of the game propelled the Interlake Saints football team to a victory against the Redmond Mustangs in a tiebreaker playoff contest.

With Saints clinging to a 20-14 lead against the Redmond Mustangs with less than three minutes left in regulation, Redmond had a first down at the Saints 45-yard line. Redmond quarterback Teryn Berry unleashed a pass deep down the left sideline toward the end-zone. The ball was intended for wide receiver Bradley Cagle but was intercepted by Interlake defensive back Bryce Hardy at the Saints’ two-yard line. Hardy returned the ball close to midfield after picking off the pass. Berry’s pass was on target but Hardy won the 50/50 ball near the Interlake goal-line. On the Saints’ ensuing offensive possession, senior quarterback Duncan Varela put the game out of reach with a 53-yard touchdown run, propelling the Saints to a 27-14 victory against Redmond in a tiebreaker playoff game on Nov. 1 at Juanita High School in Kirkland. Interlake improved their overall record to 7-3 with the win.

The game took place due to a three-way tie between Interlake, Mercer Island and Redmond at the end of the regular season. All three teams were 2-3 in KingCo 3A league play. The tiebreaker game consisted of just two quarters of football. Redmond saw their season end later in the evening after suffering a 28-7 loss to the Mercer Island Islanders in the second tiebreaker game of the night. Interlake head coach Brian Hartline, who is in his first season as the Saints head coach after nearly a decade as an assistant with the Issaquah Eagles, credited Hardy for coming through when his team needed it the most.

“It was the play of the game. That was a defining moment of the game right there. Bryce (Hardy) has had a really good senior year but you just saw him go from good to great on that play. It was wonderful,” Hartline said.

Redmond head coach Jason Rimkus didn’t regret having his quarterback take a chance with a deep ball in the closing minutes of regulation.

“We told the kids we were going to make it rain and make it fly. We did that but it just didn’t go our way,” Rimkus said.

Hardy, who said he hasn’t been in the starting lineup throughout the entire season, was thrilled to come through for his teammates.

“It was a dream come true,” Hardy said of his timely pick. “I haven’t been starting all year and have been working at it. It was a good experience to come out here and make a big play for the team because they rely on me. I want to make big plays for them.”

Interlake senior receiver, safety and kick returner Naoki Harmer set the tone throughout the game with sheer physicality and playmaking ability. Harmer had three bone crushing hits from his safety position, but his biggest play of the game came on special teams. Redmond had just cut Interlake’s lead to 14-7 courtesy of a Berry 7-yard touchdown pass to Devon LaPierre with 9:36 left in regulation. On the ensuing kickoff, Harmer scored on a electrifying 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, giving Interlake a 20-7 lead with 9:18 left in the game. The two-score lead proved to be huge for Interlake as Cagle scored on a 68-yard touchdown catch, cutting Interlake’s lead to six points on the next possession.

Rimkus said his team game plan centered upon Interlake’s speediest offensive weapon.

“We always wanted to know where No. 1 (Harmer) was at. Any deep shots (passes) we were trying to throw away from him because he had the speed to catch up. We always knew where he was even in the running game,” Rimkus said of Harmer.

Interlake quarterback Duncan Varela had three rushing touchdowns against Redmond. Harmer said Varela is the leader of the offense.

“Every single time we can just count on him to make plays. It is huge for us. He leads this offense right,” Harmer said of Varela.

Hartline said he has never coached a kid quite like Varela.

“He is probably one of the toughest kids I have ever coached. One of the other coaches on another team said to me when it comes down to it and you have a kid like Duncan on the field, your chances to win just skyrocket,” Hartline said. “He is a special kid.”

The Saints will host the Gig Harbor Tides in a winner-to-state, loser-out playoff game at 5 p.m. on Nov. 5.

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