Cornist leads Cobras past Utah in league opener
RENTON — Ken Cornist hadn't seen his family in four months, but his dad flew north from San Diego to watch the running back play in the Seattle-Tacoma Cobras' league opener Saturday night.
A little extra motivation never hurts.
Cornist cut through the Utah Argos' defense 24 times for 176 yards and five touchdowns, Kelvin Miller intercepted two passes and blocked a field goal, and the Cobras pulled away in the second half to win 37-22 at Renton Memorial Stadium.
In a game that was sloppy at times with penalties and turnovers, the Cobras (2-0, 1-0 PDFL) maintained control.
"We know how to respond to adversity," said Tyree Kellogg, the team's head coach and general manager. "They didn't let all the flags and penalties get to them. We do have that fight, that spirit not to give up."
Cornist led the charge. He had 97 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and he knew he'd get the bulk of the carries after former NFL running back Mike Bell went down with just less than four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Bell, who had just two carries, started to his right and crumpled to the ground as he attempted to reverse field on a 5-yard loss. He was helped off the field with what was later discovered to be a fractured right ankle, Kellogg said on Sunday. Bell wasn't able to put weight on his foot as he hopped down the stairs to the locker room. He may miss the rest of the season.
The emphasis stayed on the running game out of the spread formation, and quarterback Justin Walz used the read option effectively as he repeatedly handed the ball to Cornist, who busted through with eight runs of 10 or longer.
"The spread offense means there are less (defenders) in the box, and that makes my job easier," said Cornist, the former Idaho State Bengal.
"The offensive line did a great job up front," he added. "We actually came together as a unit this week."
Walz didn't have to throw much — he finished 7-of-15 passing for 146 yards — but he hooked up with receiver Titus Mack on a couple of big plays. After Miller blocked Kenny Golladay's 33-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, Walz found Mack on a pump-and-go down the right sideline on the first play from scrimmage for 53 yards to the Utah 5. Cornist scored from a yard out two plays later for a 7-0 advantage.
Walz and Mack also connected on plays of 31 and 34. Mack, from North Dakota State, finished with four catches for 117 yards.
Cornist had another 1-yard score in the first half, and he added TD runs of 11, 6 and 15 yards after the break. He leapt over a diving defender to reach the endzone on this third score to make it 21-14 with 4:05 left in the third quarter, and he helped Sea-Tac pull away early in the fourth when he spun out of a tackle in the backfield and cruised up the middle for six.
Cornist said the difference this week came with preparation.
"It was more mental, watching film more," he said. "We were focusing more on doing our jobs. Conditioning, too."
Utah (3-2, 0-2 PDFL) kept it close for most of the game. Argos quarterback Michael Affleck completed 22 of 53 passes for 227 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Miller grabbed two of the picks and tipped the other up in the air for safety Kyle Abrom, who snagged it and kept his feet in bounds along the sideline.
"We knew coming in they were going to throw a lot of fade balls and slants," Miller said.
His first interception came midway through the third and set up Cornist's go-ahead touchdown. It came just one series after Affleck lobbed a 41-yard touchdown strike over Miller's head to Tyrell West that tied it at 14-14.
The Argos dealt with an injury, too. Top running back Deckar Alexander, who rushed for 224 yards in last week's double-overtime loss to the Portland Boltz, left late in the second quarter following a big hit from Sea-Tac's Sean Samuelu. Alexander had just 33 yards on 16 carries. Sebastian Tautalatasi filled in during the second half but only carried the ball six times as Affleck tried to get the Argos back in the game through the air.
In between, flags flew often. Sea-Tac committed 14 penalties for 139 yards, and Utah had 11 infractions for 102 yards. Many were for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct.
"It's killing us," Miller said. "We have to know better. That's our biggest component. We've got to be professional on the field, regardless of who we're playing against."
Izaiah Barsh, a Cobras linebacker from Washington State, finished the scoring when he sacked Affleck in the endzone for a safety. The play came after the Cobras downed Cole Zamira's 45-yard punt at the 6.
Sea-Tac's special teams tried to stay away from Utah's Justin Phinisee, a former NFL return specialist and cornerback who has breakaway speed. Phinisee had one kick-return touchdown called back due to an illegal block in the back. He finished with 108 return yards, including a 29-yarder following a first-quarter punt that he scooped up after Sea-Tac players thought the play was dead.
Barsh said the Cobras made adjustments and forced the Argos to throw down the field. Affleck was just 10-of-25 for 115 yards after the break.
"The defense stepped up a lot more in the second half," Barsh said. "There was a lot of talk back and forth (early in the game). We were playing football with our mouths instead of our bodies."
Seattle-Tacoma Cobras 37, Utah Argos 22
at Renton Memorial Stadium
Utah Argos 0 7 7 8 — 22
Sea-Tac Cobras 0 14 14 9 — 37
ST — Ken Cornist 1 run (Cole Zamira kick), 14:03
UT — Tyrell West 4 pass from Michael Affleck (Kenny Golladay kick), 9:52
ST — Cornist 1 run (Zamira kick), 2:33
UT — West 41 pass from Affleck (Golladay kick), 11:33
ST — Cornist 11 run (Zamira kick), 4:05
ST — Cornist 6 run (Zamira kick), 0:19
ST — Cornist 15 run (Zamira kick), 13:03
ST — Safety, Izaiah Barsh sacked Affleck in the end zone, 6:12
UT — Wise Cilumba 4 pass from Affleck (Kevin Cooper pass from Affleck), 1:52
First downs 19 14
Rushes-yards 23-60 39-229
Passing yards 227 146
Comp-Att-Int 22-53-3 7-15-0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Sacked-yards lost 1-6 2-8
Punts-Avg. 3-33.3 3-32.3
Return yards 122 133
Penalties-yards 11-102 14-139
Rushing — Utah, Deckar Alexander 16-33, Sebastian Tautalatasi 6-21, Michael Affleck 1-6. Sea-Tac, Ken Cornist 24-176, Mike Bell 2-(minus-1), Justin Walz 6-41, Chris Poindexter 4-17, AJ Springer 3-(minus-4).
Passing — Utah, Affleck 22-53-3 227. Walz 7-15-0 146.
Receiving — Utah, Johnny Walker 4-39, Scott Shumeck 6-62, Britton Denos 2-17, Cilumba 7-59, Tyrell West 3-50. Sea-Tac, Titus Mack 4-117, Chris Poindexter 2-15, Andre Hardy Jr. 1-14.
Missed Field Goals — Utah, Golladay 26 (wide left), 33 (blocked).
By Brian McLean