Yelm Tornados (1-0) -- 10, 6, 8, 7
Olympia Bears (0-1) -- 0, 7, 0, 0
It was all gas and no brakes Friday night in Yelm as the Tornados overcame the Olympia Bears, 31-7, in both teams’ first conference showdown of the season.
Despite a penalty rut that slowed down the first half -- dragging the game into its third hour when all was said and finished -- senior Sean Rohwedder led the Tornados to victory with a pair of touchdowns, ultimately rushing 196 yards over 21 carries.
It was a slippery, rainy night -- and Yelm knew it. Faltering passing plays turned to hand-off breakaways as the Tornados cracked the 4A Bears’ porous defense while staying solid on their own.
Yelm’s storied win was also solidified early. Rohwedder, the Tornados’ senior running back, scored 8 points for Yelm in the first 12 seconds through a 64-yard rush on first down and a consecutive 2-point conversion.
Rohwedder then had a recovery after fumble on the Olympia 36 yard line. Yelm quarterback Nathaniel Paul looked for wide receiver Kyler Ronquillo in the pocket with a 2nd-and-goal pass, but came up short as Olympia’s Kenyata Mcneess knocked it away.
The Bears’ 15 seconds of fame came early in the second quarter. Quarterback Gabe Downing found Cole Walker deep on a 95-yard pass down center. But Paul would find Ronquillo again several minutes later -- with redemption in his eyes -- on a 25-yard pass, and the Yelm sophomore would slide clean through Olympia’s defense.
The second half started fairly stagnant, but 5 minutes in Rohwedder, on 1st down and 10, blew through the line on a 20-yard rush for his second touchdown of the night. Ronquillo had the 2-point conversion, to bring the Tornados up against the Bears 24-7.
The Tornados were sitting pretty at the start of the final quarter being in Bear territory, and they cashed in on it.
On the Bears 39-yard line, Paul threw deep center to an alone wide receiver, Hunter Venable, who rushed in a dozen yards to bring Yelm further ahead. With a good kick, Olympia’s fate was sealed.
An ecstatic Rohwedder replayed the first few seconds of the game with clarity as rain poured down on Yelm’s field: “I got the hand off, and it was green. I hit the burners and I was gone.”
No nerves settled in for Rohwedder in the leadup to the game, he told the Nisqually Valley News.
“Every team, I look at the same. Everything’s an opponent. We do as much as we can to prepare, and then we just go and crush it. I’ve just been so excited to hit some people finally, it’s been way too long,” he said. “Me and Nathan, we’ve been working together all offseason and it shows on the field how much we’ve worked together. We were just connecting on all levels.”
Yelm head coach Jason Ronquillo, who characterized his team’s performance as sloppy and rough, admitted that it was nice to get that first-week win in the bag. His defensive line rose to the top that evening, he said, and didn’t stop.
“I thought later in the game we established our identity more and ran the ball well later in the game. I thought we were just kinda sketchy, couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively. But it’s the first game, we didn’t have a scrimmage or a jamboree (leading up),” Ronquillo said.
Senior left tackle Dylan Jemtegaard said they’re going to have to clean up on penalties, but underscored that the game was likely close to the best football he’s felt he’s played.
“It was nice to finally let it all out. That was over a year’s worth of energy and effort, and to put it all into that game finally was unbelievable,” he said. “Despite all the penalties, it felt a lot worse than it was.”
Paul went eight for 21 on passing, totalling 120 passing yards. The evening’s leading receiver was Venable at seven catches over 43 yards; Ronquillo had six catches over 29 yards.
Brayden Platt, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound Yelm freshman, had seven rushes over 43 yards.
COVID-19 has forced high school athletic conferences to shift to become more local this season. The Bears, who have a new head coach this season in Nick Mullen, regularly play in the 4A South Puget Sound League but are tagging in this year for Pierce County SSC regulars Peninsula and Gig Harbor.
The Tornados will face off next Friday against River Ridge at the South Sound Stadium, and the Bears will face off against the Timberline Blazers.