What began in August as a flabby conglomeration of prospective football players who could hardly block or tackle has finally solidified into its final form after ten weeks of grinding competition.
On Friday the 16-team 2B State Football tournament, reverently known as the Gridiron Classic, will kick off at stadiums scattered across Washington. The greatest representation in the tournament comes from the Central 2B League which had seven teams qualify between its Mountain, River, and Coastal divisions.
Those state title contenders include five local squads hailing from the burgs of Adna, Napavine, Onalaska, Toledo, and Pe Ell-Willapa Valley. The other two area qualifiers are Kalama and Wahkiakum.
Even in our hotbed of 2B football, Adna has been able to stand out from the rest of the crop all season long. The Pirates enter the state tournament with a perfect record and a number one ranking that they’ve refused to relinquish at any point during the season.
This year the WIAA used a committee to help seed the teams into the tournament bracket. That committee met on Sunday and released their rankings later that day. Adna again came out with the number one spot but, unlike the rest of the field of teams, they were unable to learn the identity of their opponent.
That’s because Concrete (4-6) and Friday Harbor still needed to play a tiebreaker game to determine the winner of their league. That game was played on Tuesday in an altered format that featured two shortened halves instead of four full quartres with Concrete emerging with a 7-6 victory and the 16th spot to state. They will face the Pirates on Friday in Adna at 7 p.m.
Despite being heavily favored to win the game Adna coach KC Johnson was none-to-pleased with the hold up since he had to prepare for two teams until the middle of the game week.
“I was pretty frustrated. I was being held hostage and I didn’t like it,” said Johnson on Wednesday. “I’ve known who our opponent is for a whole 22 hours now.”
Johnson said that in addition to the film he’s broken down this week he is familiar with Concrete from a state matchup dating back to 2008.
“They haven’t changed much. They’re just tough physical kids from up in the hills in the north. They’re kind of like the Morton of that area. Just hard nosed, tough kids. Always have been,” Johnson said.
Johnson says Concrete spends time running their offense out of both the double wing and a spread shotgun formation. He noted that in previous games the Lions have tried to work their power-toss running game until situation and opportunity dictated that they open it up through the air.
“This group of kids is interesting. They’ve got some good lineman. Pretty athletic kids. Their quarterback throws the ball pretty well,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile the Pirates are averaging 38.4 points per game this season while their defense has shut out their opponents five different times. Last week they defeated Ocosta 49-0 in their crossover game. Johnson says they aren’t looking to change up their attack too much based on their foe.
“Every week our goal is to go out and beat the good teams and bury the teams that we should bury,” said Johnson,. “My goal is to put up 40 points and get every kid onto the field to play.”
Napavine, which placed second in the Mountain Division and took out Ilwaco 52-14 last week, came out of the inaugural seeding committee meeting with a number four ranking and a date with Brewster (7-3) at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Centralia.
“They’re pretty athletic in the skilled positions. I would say they are a balanced passing and running team,” said Napavine coach Josh Fay. “Probably the biggest question for us will be can we win the battle up front and can we eliminate the big plays.”
Fay says Brewster appears to run a lot of plays out of an offset-I formation that sort of resembles a Wing-T. He noted that the Tigers will need to make sure to keep Brewster’s senior slotback, Joe Taylor, from getting loose.
“They do have the Taylor kid. He’s probably their best athlete. He’s hovering around 12, or 1,300 yards in total offense of rushing and receiving,” said Fay.
He added that Ernie Nanamkin, a senior running back, is another Bear that the Tigers will need to keep an eye on.
“We’re going to key on those guys and hopefully limit those guys success through the air,” explained Fay.
With a home-away-from-home game at Tiger Stadium in his pocket Fay said he was encouraged by the outcome of the seeding committee process.
“I think it’s a big step in the right direction. I think I probably couldn’t have done a better job. I don’t have any complaints. I think it’s fun to see some of these different matchups,” Fay said. “We’ve played Adna ten million times over the years. And we’ve played Kalama. We’ve played Onalaska. It’s nice to play somebody who doesn't have 37 different scout tapes on you.”
Last week Toledo upset Onalaska in their crossover matchup and wound up catapulting themselves from an unranked position to a number six seed in the state playoffs. That designation garnered them a first round date with the number 11 seed Reardan (8-2) at 1 p.m. in Kelso on Saturday.
It’s a matchup that Toledo coach Mike Christensen isn’t necessarily seeing as big of a mismatch as those rankings might make it seem.
“They are good. Actually, they are really good,” said Christensen. “They are frustrated being an 11 seed and watching them on film I can understand why.”
Christensen says that Reardan, which also chooses to designate Indians as their mascot, likes to run the ball as much as 85 percent of the time out of a double-tight wishbone formation. He said their smashmouth style reminds him of another local state bound team – The PWV Titans.
However, he said that Reardan does have the ability to go over the top and pick up yards through the air if a defense over plays their hand.
“You can’t just have 11 guys to stop the run because they throw the ball well enough that you’ve got to respect that,” said Christensen, who tabbed the 195-pound Tyler Sprecher as Reardan’s “workhorse” running back.
Christensen said Reardan had a few good sized linemen, including a 285-pound offensive and defensive tackle and a 6’6”, 225-pound defensive end. However, he says their defense is facilitated by strong safety Noah Landt who moves all over the field from play to play.
“Their head coach is a defensive coach. Not too many teams score on them and you can tell they spend a lot of time on their defense,” said Christensen.
Christensen also had positive marks for the seeding committee on their first go-round and said his team isn’t prone to look for excuses anyhow.
“We could have been 11 and Reardan could have been six and I think you would have been hearing a lot of the same things,” he said. “I think our guys are ready mentally and they are responding well to the game plan.”
After fumbling away their opportunities to win against Toledo last Thursday Onalaska was forced to bounce back quickly for a 3-way tiebreaker on Saturday in order to grab the final spot to state out of District 4. After quickly vanquishing Ilwaco and Raymond the Loggers wound up falling a few pegs in the rankings and netted the number nine seed and a matchup with eighth ranked Lake Roosevelt (9-0) at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Coulee Dam.
Onalaska coach Mazen Saade appears to have a healthy dose of respect for the Raiders.
“They’re a real good football team. They’re 9-0 and I think they have the second best defense in Washington as far as points given up,” said Saade. “If you look at them they probably could have been ranked a little higher even. But who am I to say.”
Saade said he’s been enjoying a lot of “Hudl and cuddle” time lately to keep on all the new game film and Lake Roosevelt looks like they’ve got more than a few athletes who can cover the field.
He noted that the Raiders’ quarterback Steven Flowers, “likes to run the ball and he can throw it a little bit and he’s got a good supporting cast,” including running back Cameron St. Pierre.
“I think they are more run first than pass first but at the same time they can hurt you with their throw game,” Saade said.
Defensively Saade says he’s expecting the Raiders to pack between seven and eight players into the box to stop the run on nearly every down, with Flowers patrolling sideline to sideline from his linebacker position.
“They seem to fly to the ball in a hurry,” said Saade.
The Loggers are coming off of a hectic couple of weeks that saw them finish out the regular season on a Saturday, before playing Toledo the following Thursday. Just two days later they played three mini-games in the Kansas tiebreaker with their season on the line. Saade says he’s just happy to have found a way into the state tournament with a roster that’s reasonably healthy, if a bit dizzy.
“It’s been kind of a crazy couple of weeks and that can be difficult in football,” Saade said. ”I think our kids have handled that pretty well so far. It’s nice to know that we’re playing Saturday this week and have an extra day to get ready.”
The Pe Ell-Willapa Valley Titans backed up their Coastal Division championship with a 46-0 dismantling of Winlock in the crossover round last week. That win propelled PWV to a number 10 ranking and a collision course with Northwest Christian (8-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Riverside High School in Chattaroy.
PWV coach Josh Fluke says he sees a lot of similarities when he sits down to crunch film on the Crusaders.
“They are good. It’s kind of like looking like us in the mirror a little bit,” said Fluke.
He noted that running back Silas Perreiah is “hard to bring down,” and the stats back it up as the senior has racked up nearly 1,900 yards on the ground so far this year. The Crusaders have also found success through the air with senior quarterback Jake Gray throwing the ball for nearly 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“Their quarterback has a helluva an arm,” said Fluke, who noted that the Crusader’s alternate from a spread offense to Power-I fairly fluidly.
Fluke added that Northwest Christian likes to run a 4-4 defense with an active linebacker corps making life tough in the middle of the field.
In the face of a formidable foe Fluke says his team isn’t going to pull any punches this late in the season. He was especially enthused about his teams prospects now that junior running back Peter Hamilton is ready for a full return to action after missing most of the season with an ailment and returning to the field just last week.
“That helps a lot so that they can’t just key in on Max Smith the whole time,” Fluke said when explaining what Hamilton adds to the offense. “We’re going to stick with what we do best but we’ll throw a few different things in the old pot just to see what we can get going. We might even leg Logan Walker wing it a little bit. You never know.”