LAKEWOOD — Deacon Parker lost sleep over it, almost every night. Josh Fay called it tough to swallow at the time. Not many Tigers will forget letting the 2B state championship slip away from them in 2021.
But now, Napavine also won’t forget the outcome of Saturday night’s matchup at Harry E. Lang Stadium, and its return to the finals against Okanogan.
There were rumblings about returning to this moment and finding a different outcome since days after Napavine’s loss to Kalama in the state championship a year ago.
Those rumblings turned to tremors, and those tremors turned into an all-out eruption in the 2B state championship against Okanogan Saturday night in Lakewood, with the Tigers putting together a 20-point run in the first five minutes of the second half to reclaim a lead they would never relinquish in a 41-27 victory.
After several years of coming up just short, and coming up short to these very same Bulldogs in both 2014 and 2015 before the Tigers’ last state title in 2016, Napavine left no doubt Saturday night in Lakewood.
“It means absolutely everything,” Parker said. “Five seconds before the game I was thinking about last year, I was thinking about how Kalama was holding the trophy and we walked off sitting in our locker room. That drove me every day, since summer, all of these weeks, I’ve been giving my all. Me and everyone on the team.”
The Tigers turned those past frustrations into a frenetic second half, trailing by seven points at the break after letting Okanogan tailback Johnny Swartsel run up and down the field at will.
Napavine stole away a possession on a fumbled Okanogan kickoff and turned it into a score, and after forcing the Bulldogs to punt on their next possession, Karsen Denault took a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, lightning struck twice, as the Tigers recovered another hard-kicked ball at a Bulldog, and again converted on a Max O’Neill 31-yard touchdown run.
In five minutes of gametime, the Tigers turned a touchdown deficit into a two-score lead.
“It just worked out,” Tigers coach Josh Fay said. “We had told Conner (Holmes) to squib it hard up the middle and if we get a piece of the guy, we do, and if we don’t, we’ll get a good bounce. We talked to the guys at halftime, we knew we weren’t playing our best ball and were getting outplayed in the first half.
“Chasing points is bad, but we’ll take the outcome tonight.”
The Tiger defense then went on lockdown, allowing just one touchdown in the third quarter on a wild Okanogan drive that featured one conversion on third-and-long and two on fourth-and-long.
After Ashton Demarest connected with Denault for a 35-yard score to again bring the lead to two-scores, Stanley picked off a pass and then ran for the game-clinching first down to ice it.
“That kid has lived this moment,” Fay said. “I thought it was super fitting for him to close it out for us.”
Stanley finished with 42 rushing yards, a score, and the game-sealing interception. Demarest hit 10 of his 24 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 75 yards and another score. Denault caught three balls for 82 yards and a touchdown, and took a punt return to the house.
Across the board, Saturday night’s game was not won by a single player.
And yet still, even shortly leading up to kickoff and throughout the game, last year’s defeat at the hands of Kalama didn’t leave the Tigers’ minds. They weren’t going to let it happen again, despite a two-touchdown deficit for the first time all season.
“It was in the back of my mind the whole game,” Demarest said. “I was thinking about that when we were down 14, and at the end of the game I was still thinking about it. It feels amazing to get this done.”
And against an old nemesis in Okanogan, the Tigers responded from the most adversity they’ve faced all year and again lead the 2B Washington state football world, for the first time in six years.
For Napavine players past and present, the highlight of the season will undoubtedly be Saturday night’s win, but it all started back in the spring and summer. Fueled by the previous attempts to reach the mountaintop, the Tigers reached the pinnacle with 12 straight running clock victories before the state title, and a resounding two-touchdown win over previously-unbeaten Okanogan Saturday night under the bright lights of the state championship.
“It started back in morning weights and we told ourselves we were going to do it this year,” Stanley said. “We were tired of taking second.”