When Joshua Brookshire first met with his seniors after becoming the new head coach of the Issaquah football team, he told them that he wasn’t trying to build a program for the future, he wanted to win with the players he had now.
Even though the Eagles’ season came to an end with a 42-25 loss in a physical 4A KingCo playoff game against the North Creek Jaguars on Nov. 2, Brookshire liked what he saw from his team.
“I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the young guys in our building,” Brookshire said. “I’m just really proud of the way they played. We knew it was going to be a tough game and a physical game.”
North Creek found the end zone first with a 4-yard touchdown from running back Izayah Boss to give the Jaguars a 7-0 lead with 29 seconds left in the first quarter. The Jaguars doubled their lead when quarterback Jack Charlton threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Srijan Bogati with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
The Eagles responded with a 4-yard touchdown run from senior Gaje Gunter to make it a 14-7 game at halftime. The Eagles this year have their players usually only play on one side of the ball, so for Gunter, who usually plays defensive back, this was a special opportunity.
“I can’t express how awesome it was,” Gunter said. “I’ve been waiting the whole season, and my whole life, to be on offense and score a touchdown in your senior year of football. To score a touchdown in the playoffs, it means everything to me. It’s the best feeling in the whole world.”
With their first drive of the second half, the Jaguars extended their lead with a 3-yard touchdown run from Charlton with 8:06 left in the third quarter. On the ensuing drive, the Eagles responded with a rushing touchdown of their own, courtesy of a 2-yard run from running back Isaac Pak to cut the North Creek lead to 21-14.
After Gunter intercepted a pass by Charlton, Issaquah kicker Arpan Kundu made a 25-yard field to make it a 21-17 game going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Jaguars scored three rushing touchdowns, a 2-yard run from Charlton, a 42-yard run from Boss and an 8-yard run from fullback Jody Notoa, to pull away. Pak scored the Eagles’ only touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 2-yard touchdown run. The Eagles converted the two-point conversion with a pass from quarterback Jack Githens to tight end Stoss Hansen with five minutes left in regulation.
For the Issaquah seniors, the 42-25 loss brought an end to their high school football careers. Senior defensive back Cutter Hillock said Issaquah football has been part of his life since he played on the youth team as a third-grader.
“I’ve had Issaquah across my chest and I’ve bled purple and yellow,” Hillock said. “It’s weird, because after every season it was, ‘All right, back in the gym working for next season.’ It’s weird to know it’s over and that I’ll never wear that name across my chest again. It’s been special, and I’m so thankful for these coaches this year.”
Hillock said he was proud of what the young team accomplished this year, going further than people had expected.
“I’m so proud of these kids for fighting for us,” Hillock said about the younger players on the team. “They knew it was our last shot.”
Even after the game, Gunter still said it hasn’t sunk in yet that his time with the Eagles had ended.
“It went by so fast,” Gunter said. “I can’t really describe the feeling. It hasn’t really hit me yet that we don’t have football anymore in our lives. This program has meant so much to me, I’ve put in so much work. It’s surreal to be done.”
While there were plenty of important moments this year for the Issaquah football team (4-5 overall), its dramatic 12-11 victory on senior night over Skyline on Oct. 25, stands out. The Eagles trailed late in the game, but a failed punt attempt by the Spartans set up a game-winning touchdown for Issaquah.
Hillock said he had been dreaming about that game against Skyline in his senior year since he was in elementary school.
“That’s one of my favorite things that has ever happened to me,” Hillock said. “I thought all hope was lost, and their punter’s knee touched the ground and we got the ball back and scored. It was unreal.”
Reflecting on his first year as the Eagles head coach, Brookshire said he loves it in Issaquah and is excited for next year.
“I think we have a good community, great teachers in the building, great administration, a really good booster club and awesome parents and kids,” Brookshire said.