CATHLAMET — Dawson Stanley was, by all accounts, a good quarterback in 2017.
Stanley, a junior at the time, won the SWW 2B Mountain Division’s Offensive MVP award in his first season under center and led Napavine to an 11-2 record and spot in the state semifinals.
If the Tigers’ season-opener was any indication, Stanley is now better than good.
The senior signal-caller accounted for six touchdowns and nearly 400 yards of offense here Saturday as Napavine hammered two-time state runner-up Liberty (Spangle), 41-7, in the inaugural East-West Showdown.
The defense, meanwhile, held the Lancers to negative rushing yardage in the first half and didn’t give up a touchdown until the final 18 seconds of the game — well after the point at which the clock had begun to run.
“It’s a good start. We’re certainly happy to get a win over a quality opponent like Libert,” Tiger coach Josh Fay said. “Coach (Mike) Dewey and those guys do a great job. Schematically, they do some things that are challenging, but I’m really glad that we’re able to get out of here with a win and stay healthy.”
The Tigers lost a fumble on their first possession, but took one back from the Lancers on the next play. Stanley then broke off 28- and 17-yard runs, handed off to Draven Riddle for a 7-yard gain, and notched Napavine’s first score of the season with a 3-yard run on the next play.
Stanley, Tiger coach Josh Fay pointed out, made most of his plays with his legs last season.
“I thought today he did a lot of stuff with his arm,” Fay pointed out, “and when things broke down, he went to his recess stuff and looked like Fran Tarkenton running around, and made some nice plays.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound senior carried the ball 14 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns, and hit 20 of 25 passes for 246 yards and the other three Tiger scores.
“He’s definitely throwing the ball better, there’s no doubt about that,” Fay said. “The difference between last year and this year is he stayed in there longer and completed some balls that I think he would have took off on earlier, and when he did scramble I thought it was at the right time and the right decision.”
The improvement, Stanley said, was due to a combination of physical and mental work.
“I got in the weight room a little bit, tried to get a little bit bigger, and I feel like I really improved on my reads,” he said. “I feel like everything’s slowed down and I’m seeing things more clear. Last year … everything was just like a rush, and I wasn’t really comfortable until about Week 5.”
The offense was comfortable from the outset. The Lancers went three-and-out on their next possession, and Napavine covered 57 yards in 11 plays on its next drive, with Stanley hitting 6 of 7 passes to four different receivers for 50 yards. Ben Woodrum caught a 6-yard scoring pass to cap the drive and put Napavine up 13-0.
Stanley added a 20-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter, and sophomore Laythan Demarest hauled in a 36-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone that put Napavine up 27-0 at the intermission. The sophomore finished with four catches for 93 yards.
Stanley added a 9-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Tristen Ellison hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to cap the Tigers’ scoring.
Liberty quarterback Jake Carr completed 8 of 13 passes for 86 yards, and hit Justin King for a 6-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the game.
The Tiger defense, though, recorded four sacks and stopped 10 runs for a loss.
“I was really pleasantly surprised with us up front, with (Cade) Evander and (Hayden) Lester and (Seth) Butler. For being a little undersized, the technique was great,” Fay said. “They found ways to get in the backfield. I expected our linebacker core to be solid with those guys there, and they were.”
Draven Riddle, at strong safety, was another bright spot, Fay noted.
The game was a rematch of the 2016 state championship game, which Napavine won 34-16. Liberty was back in the finals last season, falling to Kalama 28-27.
The Saturday matchup was part of the first-ever East-West Showdown, hosted by Wahkiakum High School. The event also featured the host Mules taking on Colfax, with Wahkiakum winning 14-0. The teams are scheduled for a Week 1 rematch in 2019 on the east side of the state.
“The trip over for Liberty certainly plays a factor in it for them, but I think it’s neat,” Fay said. “Obviously it’s not what Liberty wants their opener to look like, but I think it’s good, and getting to see somebody different, and play somebody different, is kind of nice.”
“I think it’s awesome,” Stanley said. “You get to see what the Eastside has, and you get to see where you rank with them, so it’s a good deal.”
Napavine (1-0) plays at defending State 2B champion Kalama (0-1) on Friday.