Coming into the season, Woodland coach Mike Woodward knew he had a powerful running back in Daymon Gressett to hand the ball off to. The converted fullback was big, strong, and used to plenty of contact — and that was before the junior spent an offseason extended by COVID-19 in the weight room.
So if anything about Gressett’s game Friday night against Mark Morris surprised his head coach, it was the 45-yard touchdown run to kick off the scoring for the Beavers in a 35-22 win at Longview Memorial Stadium.
“We knew he was quick, but he was outrunning some dudes,” Woodward said with a laugh after the game. “That was impressive.”
Gressett came oh-so-close to hitting 300 yards for the Beavers, finishing on 298 on 28 carries and putting up three touchdowns, as Woodland rushed for 345 yards as a team.
“He was outstanding,” Woodward said. “He was finding the holes. We didn’t realize he was that fast. He’s been a power back for us, had a good week last week, but I felt like this week he was just grinding for yards. He was getting hit from all directions, he was falling forward, getting us those extra chunks. That can wear a team down.”
On top of the 45-yard score, Gressett added a 55-yard, lung-busting run down the left sideline to the end zone. But beyond that, he filled the roll Woodward and the Woodland coaching staff expected him to, absorbing hit after hit, fighting through contact, and dragging would-be tacklers in Columbia blue down the field all night long.
To start the game, Woodward called a couple of early passes to keep the Monarchs honest in the secondary. But getting the ball to start the second half in a 14-14 tie, all pretenses went out the window.
Gressett got the first-down call and gained seven yards. Then he got five more on second down. Two plays later after a holding call, he got the give on third-and-10 and fought his way forward to get just enough for a first down. That was immediately following by a 15-yard gain, then a 16-yard run, then a 6-yarder, and a play later, a 10-yard touchdown.
“These guys out here are my brothers, and when I’m out there sucking in air, they’re all around me like, ‘Come on, just one more, one more, one more,’” Gresssett said. “That’s what makes me not tired.”
The next drive started with two more Gressett runs, before a failed trick play brought up fourth-and-6. The coaching staff thought about punting, before special teams coach D.J. Malinowski made a sudden connection: Gressett was the up-man on the punt team.
“We felt that Gressett had the hot hand and we knew our fake punt was to him,” Woodward said. “We figured if he could get some momentum and carry some guys, we might be in business.”
Twenty yards later on the fake, Woodland was back in business, and with the entire Monarch defense focusing on the bruising tailback that had put up 103 yards in the third quarter alone, quarterback J.J. Fuerst was able to take the ball himself for an easy 13-yard touchdown to put the Beavers up by 14.
Mark Morris came back to tie the game on its next possession, with Jared Noel finding Deacon Dietz in the flat for an 18-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to six points midway through the fourth quarter.
The Monarchs’ senior quarterback, in his first year as the starter, finished 11-for-21 with three touchdowns — and was 2-for-2 on two-point conversions — and finished on 169 passing yards.
“Give Noel credit, he’s improved every week,” said Mark Morris coach Shawn Perkins. “This week he improved, he took a big step in the right direction. He made great decisions. Sometimes his balls were a little off, but he had the right ideas. Our receivers ran some good routes tonight, and we made some plays in the passing game, so that was impressive to see. It was fun to see that.”
Gressett got the ball right back on Woodland’s next drive, with four runs getting 39 yards. But a chop block set the Beavers well behind the sticks, and put them in no-man’s land, facing fourth-and-18 from the 33-yard line, where for once, Gressett wasn’t really an option.
So for the first time in the half, Woodward put the ball in Fuerst’s hands to make a play with his arm. On his third and final throw of the night, the senior threw a dart to Mark Morales up the seam, who took a shot and held on for a gain of 26.
“We were trying to hold the backside safety and put their play side safety with two guys on him so he’d have to pick one, and it ended up working,” Woodward said. “That was probably JJ’s best throw of the year.”
Gressett took the carry on first-and-goal and set Woodland up at the 1-yard line, and Fuerst punched it in on a sneak.
Mark Morris’ chance at a late comeback died two plays into its next drive, when Eric Stover came up with an interception to seal it.
“That pass was no-soft-pass,” Gressett said. “That was a laser. He just ran up and grabbed that thing like it was easy.”
The loss drops Mark Morris to 1-3 on the year heading into its crosstown clash with R.A. Long next Friday.
“Our guys are almost there,” Perkins said. “That’s been the story of our season at times: we’re almost there. We’ve got one more week to push it over the edge a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Woodland (2-2) is set to host Ridgefield in its final game of the season.
WOODLAND 35, MARK MORRIS 22
Woodland 7 7 14 7-35
M. Morris 0 14 0 8-22
W – Daymon Gressett 45 run (Emmanuel Cruz kick)
MM – Jaden Anderson 44 pass from Jared Noel (kick failed)
W – Gressett 55 run (Cruz kick)
MM – Langston Bartell 14 pass from Noel (2-point conversion good)
W – Gressett 10 run (Cruz kick)
W – JJ Fuerst 13 run (Cruz kick)
MM – Dietz 18 pass from Noel (2-point conversion good)
W – JJ Fuerst 1 run (Cruz kick)
RUSHING – Woodland: Gressett 28-312, Fuerst 12-22, Mark Morales 1-10, Matthew Yager 1-7.
PASSING – Woodland: Fuerst 3-3-0-62, Yager 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING – Woodland: Cruz 2-29, Morales 1-33.