TUMWATER — Napavine’s big plays met Onalaska’s ground-and-pound Saturday in Tumwater, and for the most part, both did what they wanted to.
But while the Loggers’ body blows churned out drives and points, they just couldn’t keep up with Napavine’s haymakers, with the Tigers landing explosives all afternoon long in a 36-26 win in the 2B state semifinals.
“It means a lot,” senior quarterback Ashton Demarest said. “Especially against those guys. It’s been a rivalry for eight, nine years. It’s been big, and it’s a great feeling to beat these guys.”
And now, Napavine is bound for the state title game for the third straight year, with its goals of repeating as state champions still alive — and now a whole lot more tangible, with just one more team standing in its way.
“It feels good,” Napavine coach Josh Fay said. “We’ll take it pretty, we’ll take it ugly, we’ll take it like today, I guess.”
“Like today” included yet another complete afternoon for the Napavine passing attack, with Demarest going 8 for 11 in the first half and finishing 14 for 21 for 316 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“Like today” involved fellow senior Conner Holmes taking over as Demarest’s main target, logging 201 receiving yards on seven catches. Three of his first four receptions went over the top for over 45 yards, including two of Napavine’s first three touchdowns.
“Conner was great,” Fay said. “Since he came back from that hamstring injury, he’s been really good on both sides of the ball. He had three or for big plays today for us that got things going.”
After Onalaska churned down the field for the day’s opening touchdown, Napavine’s offense went to work, with Demarest and Holmes punctuating a quick drive with a 57-yard strike on a wheel route down the left sideline.
“He was there, I just tossed it up there,” Demarest said. “He made a great play on it.”
That five-play drive ended up being comparatively long for the Tigers, who recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored three plays later on a 19-yard Cael Stanley run. Then, when Onalaska struck back, Demarest threw a one-play Haymaker, over the middle to Holmes for a 60-yard score.
The two seniors linked up in a big way one more time in the third quarter, on a deep shot that took the Tigers from the shadow of their own end zone into Onalaska territory. Five plays later, it was time for another big play, with Demarest finding Cayle Kelly for a 40-yard touchdown.
“It’s just fast,” Holmes said. “We can score on one play, or stretch it out and run a couple plays, spread the ball out to whoever’s open.”
Kelly caught another pass to finish with 49 receiving yards. James Grose added a pair of completions, and Stanley, Colin Shields and Caleb Von Pressentin all came down with catches of their own.
Demarest also led Napavine with 69 rushing yards, including a dive to the pylon to end the first half with one more touchdown on a 7-yard scamper.
On the flip side, “like today,” also meant Onalaska hanging around, with its most complete offensive effort against Napavine in a couple years. The Loggers struck first just like they had in their regular-season meeting, cut the lead to 14-12 in the second quarter, and got back in the end zone twice more in the second half.
Kayden Mozingo led the rushing attack in his final game in purple and gold with 176 yards on 31 carries, finishing his year with 2,279 yards on the season. Junior Rodrigo Rodriguez add 112 yards to end at 2,033, making it the first time in Onalaska history the Loggers have had two 2,000 yard rushers.
“I'm proud of these guys,” Onalaska coach Mazen Saade said. “They battled, and they battled all season. The growth these guys have shown this season is pretty impressive.”
The issue for the Loggers came in the second half, when their slow, deliberate rushing attack shortened the game too much. Onalaska took over down 36-18 after forcing a turnover on downs with just over a minute left in the third quarter and proceeded to churn out a 15-play, 96-yard drive capped by a Mozingo dive to cut the gap to 36-26, but took over six minutes to do so. Even after Napavine went three-and-out to give the ball right back, the Loggers took nearly all of the rest of regulation to get back into scoring position — only for James Grose to end it on an interception.
“We were hoping for a stop,” Grose said. “We gathered together and made them get to third down. We knew they were gonna pass, and we had to do something. He kind of just threw it in a place where I was able to go get it and make a play.”
That was the day for Napavine. Not perfect all the way around, with plenty of bruises gotten along the way. But it ended with big plays on the outside. “Like today” ended a whole lot like Sept. 8, with Napavine coming out the happier in the meanest football rivalry in southwest Washington.
And “like today” was just like a year ago, ending with the Tigers spilling onto Sid Otton Field to celebrate another trip to the final dance of the fall, under the bright lights at Husky Stadium.
“We’re just excited to get back there,” Fay said. “It means a lot to get there, it’s hard to do, and not a lot of people can do it.”