Kirshenbaum: Onalaska backs up its ranking on the field in comeback win


TENINO — In what should be a surprise to absolutely nobody, Mazen Saade had something to say.

Onalaska’s head football coach always has a quote ready, win or lose, good game or bad, rain or shine. In the week leading up to the Loggers’ 2B state quarterfinal against Kalama — capping off two weeks of takes on Twitter about the seedings in the tournament — he tried to downplay the outside noise, keeping his quotes focused forward on the matchup.

But standing on the 50-yard line of Beaver Stadium on Friday night, after Onalaska downed the Chinooks 60-40 in the 2B state quarterfinals, Saade had plenty to say.

“Our program motto is to ‘Keep digging,’” he said to open his postgame interview. “You see it on everything we do. 

“We hashtag it out there for those social medialites from Kalama.”

The Loggers will keep digging another week, now, playing past Thanksgiving for the third time in the past four state tournaments.

In a vacuum, the No. 4 team in a tournament beating the No. 5 normally wouldn’t be much cause for consternation. But for two weeks — technically one, given the fact that Kalama did have to beat Friday Harbor to get here, but let’s be honest here — the takes had flown online.

After all, the Chinooks beat the Loggers back in Week 6. They had gone on to win the four-team C2BL South Division. In their mind, that was enough to earn them a top-four seed and a first-round bye in the tournament.

The seeding committee disagreed. The Chinooks fell to No. 5, behind the Loggers in probably the most dramatic twist of Selection Sunday across any bracket.

And Kalama made its displeasure heard. Accusations of conspiracy, collusion and backroom deals flew the committee’s way. To be fair, the Chinooks had a case — a very good case at that — but the people in charge of seeding the bracket chose to prioritize their eye test over past results.

Then, all that was left to do was actually play the football game to see how the seeding committee did.

“So far, here’s Game 1, and it’s turned out okay,” Saade said with a smile.

It didn’t start that way for the Loggers, of course. It started with Kalama pulling off an onside kick to open the game, Onalaska coming up short on a fake punt in the red zone, and the Chinooks taking the lead on a short field five plays later. It continued with a shanked punt that handed the No. 5 seed more great field position that they turned into another touchdown for a 12-point lead.

At halftime, Kalama led 20-14, and the bracket’s doubters had fuel to burn, and it only got brighter when the Chinooks went up 26-14 less than three minutes into the third quarter.

Then the tide turned.

When Onalaska went to Kalama in early October, the second half was a back-and-forth affair that featured seven total touchdowns, four of which were over 40 yards. Friday in Tenino, the Loggers showed up for another shootout, but the Chinooks just couldn’t match the blows.

“Their M.O. might have been that they were the No. 5 and we were the No. 4,” Saade said. “But our kids’ M.O. was that they were not satisfied with how our game ended on Oct. 6. They were not satisfied.”

It wasn’t a fluke play, or a bad bounce. There wasn’t a contentious flag or a slip on slick turf to point the finger at or even the type of regrettable mistake that will haunt a player an entire offseason.

For the latter two quarters, Onalaska simply exerted its will, and did … Well, the Loggers did what you’d expect a higher seed to do.

They won in the trenches. They controlled the ball. They broke off big plays on offense, forced takeaways on defense, and turned those into more big plays with the ball back in their hands. 

Kayden Mozingo starred in the show, setting a new Onalaska single-game rushing record with 447 yards. He started the scoring when the Loggers desperately needed it, ripping off a 74-yard touchdown immediately after Kalama went up 12-0 to get Onalaska back in it. By the end of the night, he was scoring nearly at will, running past an offensive line that absolutely dominated until the only thing the Kalama defense could see was the number on the back of his jersey — a number that could almost be considered too poetic, because of course Mozingo wears No. 4.

“Isn’t that what we are, the No. 4 seed?” Saade said. “That’s what I thought. That’s a pretty good number, huh? I guess the No. 4 ran all over the place tonight.”

Just like they’re still digging, No. 4 is still running, past the seeding drama and the old rival, out of the hole they put themselves in early and into a state semifinal.

And Saade was ready to talk about it.

“This is awesome, this is what it’s about,” Saade said. “We’re in the Final Four, and I couldn’t be prouder of these kids.”