RENTON — It was a situation that screamed chaos but required calm.
The Seahawks faced fourth-and-seven from the San Francisco 35, trailing 17-13 with less than 14 minutes remaining in the NFC Championship Game.
After hesitating and then rushing out the field goal team, the Seahawks called time out and sent the offense back out with specific instructions.
A play with shorter pass routes that would get the first down was the primary call.
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The alternate plan was for quarterback Russell Wilson to try to draw the 49ers offsides with a hard count.
And if that worked, giving Seattle what amounts to a free play then all the receivers (three in this case) were instructed to run vertical routes into the end zone. It’s something the Seahawks, like all NFL teams, work on regularly, to try to maximize an advantageous circumstance.
“We had about three times in practice during the week where it happened and we were able to get our defense offsides,’’ recalled offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “And a couple of times you get everybody doing the right thing, and a couple of times you get guys saying, ‘I didn’t know if he was offsides. I didn’t know what happened.’ ’’
This time, though, everyone did as instructed. And Wilson, given enough time to let it develop, threw deep to Jermaine Kearse, who caught the ball just behind 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers as he tumbled into the end zone for the winning touchdown in a 23-17 victory that sent the Seahawks to their second Super Bowl.
“It was beautiful,’’ Bevell said.
It was also fitting that the ball went to Kearse. Through his football career at Lakes High School, the University of Washington and now with the Seahawks, he has become known for making the big play at the most opportune moment.
He made last-drive catches that led UW to one of its biggest upsets, against USC in 2009, and the last-minute touchdown to win the Apple Cup in 2010 and send the Huskies to their first bowl game in eight years. Then there was his 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the season opener for the Seahawks at Carolina.
“He always just rises up to make those kind of plays,’’ said Lakes High coach Dave Miller.
Miller attributes Kearse’s seeming knack for coming through when it matters most to an ability to calmly ride out the inevitable peaks and valleys of a game, and season.
“He’s always been very, very focused,’’ Miller said. “He was a kid that if something bad happened in a practice of a game, he didn’t get down. And if something good happened, he didn’t get too high, either. He was always just very levelheaded.’’
Maybe, too, Kearse simply knows that there are bigger things to deal with in life than a football game.
In 2007, before his senior year at Lakes High and as he was preparing to go to a football camp at UW, his father, David, died suddenly at age 46 of complications due to heart disease.
David Kearse had long been stationed at Fort Lewis and had a love of football he passed down to his sons (another, Jamaal Kearse, also played at Washington).
“He had a big part in my sports life,’’ Kearse said.
And in the celebration of the Super Bowl berth Sunday, Kearse also thought about what the moment would have meant for his father.
“He would be very proud of me to be able to go out there and perform the way I try to,’’ Kearse said this week. “I just try to go out there and make him proud, and I feel like I have done a good job.’’
Miller said there’s no question about that.
“It (David Kearse’s death) was very difficult, obviously,’’ Miller said. “And looking back now, (Jermaine Kearse) he was at that age where kids could respond in different ways. And it says a lot about his character and his relationship with his dad that he responded in a real positive way by honoring his father by continuing to work and making the best of his life and living the way that his father would have wanted him to.’’
Asked how he dealt with his father’s death at a young age, Jermaine Kearse says simply: “I just tried to refocus myself and use that as motivation to do well.’’
He’s found plenty of other motivation along the way, as well. As a senior at Lakes, he was regarded as only the second-best player on his team, with tight end Kavario Middleton more highly touted. Despite finishing with the second-most catches in school history at UW, he was criticized for dropping too many easy passes.
And then he went undrafted in 2012, taking his chances as a free agent with the Seahawks. Carroll had been on the other sideline with USC when Kearse made those catches in 2009. After making the roster in large part due to special teams play, he’s become a key part of the receiving corps this season, with 22 catches for 346 yards in the regular season, and three for 69 in the postseason.
Now, thanks in no small part to his own catch, he’s headed to the Super Bowl, one of two Washington natives on the team’s current active roster (the other is receiver Bryan Walters).
“It’s kind of mind-blowing,’’ Kearse said. “Growing up in this state and playing for the hometown team and going to the Super Bowl is something you dream of.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta