Jesse Zalk ran untouched 73 yards into the end zone. Almost as if no one saw him.
On this night, that was entirely possible.
Oh say can you see?
Not much, actually, at this year’s Freedom Bowl Classic. The all-star football game featuring recent high school graduates from Southwest Washington was called early because the lights at Kiggins Bowl failed to operate.
Zalk’s 73-yard touchdown pass from Tony Gennaro ended the scoring Saturday night, giving the East a 21-0 victory.
Zalk, from Prairie, was named the game’s most valuable player. Gennaro, from Camas, took home the East’s offensive star of the contest.
But really, the sunset owned this evening.
Freedom Bowl organizers called an electrician, who hustled to the bowl but could not fix the problem.
In the meantime, officials tried to get a full game in before darkness fell. There was a five-minute halftime. Then, with 2:21 left in the third quarter, the game was sent into running-clock mode.
While those moves helped move the game along, the players still could not outrun the sun. The game was called with about four minutes remaining, just after 9 p.m.
“It was a ‘whatever’ kind of deal,” said Gennaro, who completed 6 of 9 passes for 115 yards and a TD and also scored a rushing TD.
“We were told about it in the second quarter. We just said if they call the game, that’s the game. We were just going to have fun while we were out there.”
John Brown, the Freedom Bowl Classic’s chairman, said he hopes fans will understand.
“For the safety of the kids, we can’t go any further,” he said.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that is beyond our control,” said Bryant, adding that next year he will ask Vancouver Public Schools to test the lights the day before the game.
As far as the game, the East took advantage of having experienced quarterbacks on their squad. The West did not have one QB who played the position full time last fall.
Gennaro scored the opening touchdown on a 1-yard keeper a play after he found Union’s Gabe Rego with a 14-yard pass.
The West, with that inexperience, had trouble keeping the ball, turning it over three times. Heritage’s Michael Quintana scooped up a fumble and returned it 51 yards to make it 14-0 for the East with 5:49 left in the first half.
“Oh my God, it was amazing,” said Quintana, who was named the East’s defensive star of the game. “It felt like I was running on water. I was moving. It was like magic.”
Zalk finished with six receptions for 112 yards and his long touchdown, plus he had a long kickoff return and punt return to take home overall MVP honors. A religious man, he thanked God first, then his teammates.
“I told my guys, give me a block and I’ll try to make something happen,” Zalk said. “All I had to do was run because I had good blocks.”
The West team lost a chance to score in the first half with a turnover and then had a touchdown called back due to a penalty late in the fourth quarter, just before the contest was called. Robert Bain of Fort Vancouver was the West’s offensive star, rushing for 31 yards on six carries.
“It was my last football game so I had to show up as much as possible,” Bain said. “I had to play hard, with all my heart.”
Skyview’s Jonah Koreski was a beast all night on the defensive line, with a sack, another tackle for loss and several quarterback hurries to take home the West’s star on defense.
“The whole experience was awesome, meeting the guys,” Koreski said. “It was a good way to end my high school career. It was chill.”
Unfortunately, it was not chill for everyone. The game, played for Shriners charities, was also marred by three ejections, two players and an assistant coach.
“You hope the kids get the message. You talk to the kids about why they’re here, and you hope that it sticks,” said East head coach Terry Hyde of Prairie. “If it doesn’t stick, we have to run them. It’s unfortunate for the kids who got caught up in it.”
The 2012 Freedom Bowl Classic had a lot of things go against it. Uncontrolled emotions and no lights.
But by the end of the evening, the players on the field shaking hands were still feeling pretty good about themselves and the event.
“I was thinking about this game all week,” Gennaro said. “The last game I was going to play in the Camas-Vancouver area. I loved playing with these guys.”
Note: Clark County Youth Football had two games during the day as part of the Freedom Bowl Classic. The Bruins beat the Cardinals 14-6 and the Sharks beat the Tigers 18-0.
FREEDOM BOWL CLASSIC
At Kiggins Bowl
EAST 21, WEST 0
East 0 14 7 0–21
West 0 0 0 0–0
East — Tony Gennaro 1 run (Chavo Carmargo kick)
East — Michael Quintana 51 fumble return (Carmargo kick)
East — Jesse Zalk 73 pass from Gennaro (Carmargo kick)
Rushing: East — Kaben Humphrey-Butler 4-14, Zack Marshall 9-12, Zalk 2-9, Gabe Rego 2-8, Corey Buendicho 1-7, Gennaro 4-0; West — Robert Bain 6-31, Dennis Henderson 5-20, Darius Raiford 5-19, Abdul Conteh 5-11, Mo Morrison 1-7.
Passing: East — Gennaro 6-9-0-115, Humphrey-Butler 1-3-0-0, Riley O’Dell 1-3-0-11; West — Tyler Bergeron 3-8-0-30, Bain 0-1-0-0, Henderson 3-6-2-12.
Receiving: East — Zalk 6-112, Rego 1-14, Casey Smith 1-0; West — Ross Armstrong 3-25, Hayden Schuh 1-12, Thomas Jacobson 1-6, Jordan Vela 1-(minus-1).