Every week this season, Nolan Swofford has taped up his wrist before Winlock’s game, and every week his coach, Ernie Samples, writes a quick note on the white slate for his senior tailback to wear into battle. Friday night, it was one word, scrawled out in all-caps: STATE.
Swofford — like just about every player on the Winlock roster — wasn’t alive the last time the Cardinals made the state tournament. But that’s exactly where they’re going now after a 38-18 win over Evergreen Lutheran.
It started out as a rout, it ended as a grind, but Winlock will be back at State for just the second time since the turn of the century.
“It means a lot,” Samples said. “These guys have been working hard. This is going to a rough group to say good-bye to, or ‘See you later.’”
This whole season, Winlock’s calling card has been long, explosive plays, blowing games away before they even get fully underway. As the competition ramps up, that’s giving way to a bruising, slow-and-steady approach, and Friday, the Cardinals proved they can win that way too.
“The whole gameplan was 4 yards on every play,” Swofford said. “They throw a lot, so take away as much clock as we can and shorten it up."
All four of Winlock’s scoring drives in the first half took at least five plays to work down the field. Then when the game hit the third quarter, the strategy had to ramp up even further.
Evergreen Lutheran took the opening kickoff to start the second half to the house to cut the lead to 34-18, then recovered an onside kick to get the ball right back. Winlock’s defense held, but on the first play of the ensuing possession, Payton Sickles was sent hard into the running track on a late hit out of bounds and would spend the rest of the game on the sidelines with a leg injury. With quarterback Neal Patching — usually the lightning to Swofford’s thunder — already working on an injury of his own, it fell to the senior tailback even more, and Swofford stepped up and shouldered the load.