The Air Raid offense never found a solid rhythm. Penalty flags flew in its face all night.

But Kennedy Catholic showed it could play some defense, despite losing its best defensive player, Sav’ell Smalls, late in the first quarter to injury.

Despite 20 penalties for 165 yards, the Class 4A No. 5 Lancers brought some newfound pieces to their arsenal and made a statement in new ways. Known for its potent offense, Kennedy collected its first win of the season with defensive stops and a knockout running game to claim a 32-27 triumph over Bethel, which enters the season at No. 8 in Class 3A, in a nonleague season opener on Friday night at CenturyLink Field.

“We went in at halftime and everyone was kind of down and I was like, ‘We did not go out there and play well at all offensively, and we averaged 50 points a game last year,’” said Justin Baker, who had a 91-yard kickoff return for a TD to help Kennedy scrape out a 14-13 halftime lead. “But we were winning the game and our defense was getting stops. So that gives me a lot of hope in our team. If our defense can get stops, we know the offense is going to come along.”

After a slow start, junior quarterback and UW commit Sam Huard threw for 313 yards and four touchdown passes, but the big play was a fourth-and-1 defensive stop with two seconds left in the third quarter. With the Lancers ahead 25-20, and Bethel’s Will Latu churning up the middle at the Lancer 11-yard line, Jahvius Lieu got a hand on Latu and TJ Paaga finished him off for a 1-yard loss.

“We needed to stop the run, and it won the game,” Kennedy Catholic coach Sheldon Cross said. “We harped on that all offseason. We didn’t shy away from it. We needed to be better on defense, and we’re going to keep getting better. We’re running a new scheme on defense and we made big stops. I’m proud of our guys.”

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Oddly enough it wasn’t Kennedy’s passing game that was the story in a nationally televised game on ESPNU on the home turf of the Seattle Seahawks. Even though receiver Jabez Tinae had a huge night with six catches for 151 yards and two TDs.

“Their whole defense (Bethel) over there played their hearts out,” said Huard, who completed 15 of 28 passes and had an interception. “The receivers I have, I’m so lucky to have them. I definitely missed them (on some throws), but we’ll fix that up and clean some things up.”

Bethel got a big game from quarterback Kekoa Visperas, an Eatonville transfer, as he hit on 19 of 34 passes for 224 yards.

Kennedy finally got some breathing room with 6:49 to play when Huard hit a diving Justin Baker for 30-yard touchdown pass to push the Lancers’ lead to 32-20. The TD came one play after Bethel punt sailed out-of-bounds at the Braves’ 30-yard line.

Latu went around left end for a 1-yard TD — his fourth score of the night — to bring Bethel within 32-27 with 4:13 left in the game. The scoring drive was aided by two Lancer penalties.

Kennedy Catholic running back Zaire Lozolo finished with 136 yards on 18 carries, but most important helped the Lancers run off the final 4:13 with a sustained drive.

Smalls, a five-star recruit, exited with about a minute left in the first quarter and didn’t return. Smalls, who came out in street clothes to start the second half, was believed to suffer a concussion on a collision with a Bethel offensive lineman while playing defense.