State 2B Football: Eyes Focused on Reaching the Final Four
By Matt Baide
Southwest Washington likes to claim the crown as the toughest conference in 2B football. For years, the state football bracket was not a solid indicator of that, with the bracket separated into east and west and the championship game pitting two teams against each other for bragging rights.
With the new WIAA seeding committee, there was a solid balance of east vs. west in the first round. For a moment, the seven District 4 teams all held a lead over their opposing east side teams. Wahkiakum and Pe Ell-Willapa Valley weren’t able to hold onto their leads, but with five of the eight quarterfinal teams from District 4, it appears they can officially claim the title of toughest state 2B football conference.
“It is now.It goes in cycles. Will it stay this way? I don’t know. Over the last five years, 10 years, you would have seen five of the best teams were from Southwest Washington,” Adna coach K.C. Johnson said. “East side has a lot of good football teams. Overall, football being played in Southwest Washington in those three divisions is really good. This year, the mountain division is tough, river is tough. We could have had seven out of eight, it speaks volumes.”
Onalaska was the only lower seed and road team to earn the win in the first round. Coach Mazen Saade was impressed by the showing of District 4.
“That’s awesome for District 4. For Ony football and this community, we’re excited to be where we’re at,” Saade said. “It speaks to the district and league, it’s impressive. We have more schools here and we’re playing the best of the best. To know that your regular season schedule includes those teams, it’s cool.”
Toledo defeated Reardan 35-3 last Saturday and will have to travel through the Cascades on Friday to face Tri-Cities Prep on Saturday. Looking at how the first round shook out, Toledo coach Mike Christensen felt it is clear where the toughest football in Washington is.
“I think without a doubt. In Southwest Washington, we take pride in that. We want to have that toughest area in 2B football. It feels good going outside of our area playing other teams,” Christensen said. “It’s definitely something we like and other teams pride ourselves on that. You play a Southwest Washington 2B schedule, you’ve already played the top teams in the state.”
Napavine took down Brewster in the opening round and will face another east side team this Saturday in Chewelah. Coach Josh Fay concurred with his three colleagues in the league.
“I’m really proud of the teams in our district. It speaks a lot to the coaches and their programs. I’m not surprised in any way, it’s cool that District 4 is so well represented,” Fay said. “We’re right on the edge of getting it done. What’s left of the mountain, river division, has made our league so successful in the playoffs.”
There will be at least one district four team in the semifinals, but will it be an all District 4 semifinal? It sounds like it’s a safe bet.
A look at the local quarterfinal games:
Adna vs. Onalaska
At the top of the pile in the toughest conference in football is the Adna Pirates. The top seed in the state tournament will face a familiar opponent in the Onalaska Loggers at 7 p.m. at Tumwater District Stadium on Saturday.
The Pirates won the regular season meeting 27-8 in Onalaska on Oct. 19. It was a close game for three quarters, and both teams expect this playoff game to be similar to the first meeting.
“We’ve got to adjust to what they did well and look at things we didn’t do well. It comes down to that, you’ve got to go play football,” Johnson said. “They’re really physical and tough, the most physical team we’ve played all year. We’re going to get banged around.”
For the Loggers, they know it will be no easy task to hand the Pirates their first loss of the season.
“They’re the best 2B football team in the state of Washington. They’re good, they’re undefeated, offensively, defensively, they have really good athletes,” Saade said.
Saade believes if Onalaska can fix the little things and focus on playing Logger football this time around, the outcome could end in the Onalaska’s favor.
“We’ve got to go to work. We’ve got to fix the little things and play our best game all year,” Saade said. “I don’t know if we’ve played our best game. To do that against Adna, it’s a tough order.”
Adna dominated Concrete in their opening round game, scoring 54 points in the first half to cruise to a win. The Pirates have a lot of weapons on offense, and Johnson will use all of them to try and keep the Ony defense on their heels.
“That’s pretty much been our gameplan all year. We have seven or eight guys that can do things well. We mix it up with everyone getting carries, catches. You can’t key in on one guy,” Johnson said. “If you take something away, something else will be there. That’s the way we’ve always played and we’re happy to have that ability.”
Having been the underdog against Lake Roosevelt according to the seeding committee, the Loggers are fine with being in the underdog position.
“We’re definitely the underdog. We always play with a chip on our shoulder. In preseason, no one picked us to be here,” Saade said. “Are we an underdog? Yes. Are we tickled pink to be here? Yes. Do we know what this means? Yes. Are we excited and ready for the challenge? Yes. That’s why you play the game.”
While the game is in Tumwater, both teams travel well and the Loggers and Pirates expect a raucous atmosphere at Tumwater District Stadium.
“We’ve always loved playing at Tumwater. It’s a good field for us,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun place for us to go to. You’re playing at a place you don’t normally play and it’s been good for us in the past.”
While there is a lot of attention on the skill players, Saade believes it’s all about the fundamentals.
“We have to improve on our blocking. We blocked well for the most part (against Lake Roosevelt). There were times we could get better, we have to improve our blocking, improve our ability to not get blocked,” Saade said. “We were very close on a lot of tackles. We’ve just to improve those things, that’s what it still comes down to. Vince Lombardi said it, this game is about blocking and tackling, at every level of competition, and your effort.”
If the Pirates can do their jobs on defense and utilize their offensive weapons, the Pirates will continue their undefeated run into the final four.
“They’re a very well coached quality football team. I have a lot of respect for those kids,” Johnson said. “We know what’s coming, we’ve got to be physical. It’s going to come down to fundamentals and taking care of the football.”
Toledo vs. Tri-Cities Prep
Toledo is looking for their second win in a row against the east side, traveling to Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco to take on Tri-Cities Prep.
The Jaguars have been the unanimous top team on the east side by rankings and polls for most of the season. Star quarterback Dante Maiuri didn’t play against Wahkiakum, but Kendrick Sheehan stepped in at quarterback and was able to earn a 35-28 win over Wahkiakum in the opening round.
Despite the injuries to the Jaguars, Christensen sees a quality team on film.
“They look really solid on film. They have lots of talent and they like to throw the ball. They run a spread option. Their starting quarterback is hurt, but their backup is a pretty good athlete,” Christensen said. “He can throw the ball well and run the offense well. It doesn’t set them back too much.”
Toledo has only faced two teams that can throw the ball comparable to TCP in Kalama and Napavine. Christensen hopes that experience against those teams will help them in preparing for this contest.
“Our experience against Napavine and Kalama is huge in this game. We’ve reverted back to things we’ve talked about against Kalama. We’ve always worked on our pass defense so it’s not a huge transition,” Christensen said. “It’s hard to defend the pass but our preparation hasn’t changed. Even when we’re playing a running team like Reardan or Ony, we’re still working on 7-on-7 pass coverages.”
The Indians have won six in a row after a River Division loss to Kalama in Week 6. Christensen likes that the team is peaking at the right time.
“I feel like we’re playing our best football at the right time. I think it helps. You come up against a team and you’re not too worried about your momentum. You trust in what you have been doing,” Christensen said. “It’s a funny thing, I feel like the Reardan game was a microcosm of our whole season. We didn’t score a touchdown in the first quarter and then outscored our opponents 35-3. That’s how our season was. We had a slow start, but we trust the process and hopefully that can continue.”
Christensen noted the size of TCP on the line which could create problems for the Toledo line on both sides of the ball. But he also noticed that east side teams aren’t used to defending against the Wing-T formation that is more common west of the mountains.
The progress of the Indians has been great to see for Christensen, but knows the margin for error against the Jaguars is thin if they want to earn their spot in the final four.
“There’s still some small things in some blocking assignments. At the beginning of the season, we were a couple steps off our reads. Now, we’re a step off our read,” Christensen said. “We’re getting close. We’re not quite where we need to be. The more we continue this run, the margin (for error) is tighter and tighter. Hopefully, we’ll take that next half step.”
Napavine vs. Chewelah
There’s a lot of hype behind this game, especially on Twitter with former Chronicle sports writer Brandon Hansen now the editor at the Chewelah Independent.
Chewelah comes into the game at 8-3 after defeating Columbia-Burbank 35-14 in the opening round.
Junior quarterback Jake Jeanneret leads the Cougar’s throwing attack, completing 54 percent of his passes this season with 21 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. He has also hurt teams with his legs, tied with a team-high 77 carries for 404 yards and six touchdowns.
“They’re athletic. They’ve got some athletes and they’re big up front. They’re going to try to spread us out,” Fay said. “They run a lot of empties and quads, spread the field and let their athletes go to work.”
The Cougars run a similar offense to that of Napavine’s, which also relies on spreading the field and allowing Dawson Stanley to use his legs or find the open guy to make a play.
“I guess in the one sense, the kids run it and understand it. Outside of Kalama, it’s something we don’t really see. If their starters were our scout guys we face everyday, it would be great,” Fay said. “It will be familiar but it will be new at the same time. We’ll see how our kids handle it, at least they understand the concepts.”
While Napavine will have their hands full on defense, the Cougars will also have a tough time defending the Napavine offense. With a lot of players stepping up and making catches or running the ball well, Chewelah will have to try to keep everyone under containment.
“I think we’re going to have recycle what we’ve done and that’s facilitate and get the ball in five six, seven guy’s hands. That’s the most important thing,” Fay said. “Jared McCollum, the (Seth) Butler kid is playing well. (Laythan) Demarest is consistent Laythan, for six or seven weeks, was the second guy. I think he still is, but other guys have taken a lot of pressure off of him. Tanner is starting to run the ball well. Bradshaw has been a swiss army knife. In addition to Dawson, four or five guys step up and we continue to improve and get better.”
This is the second week in a row Napavine will be facing a new opponent, and Fay likes the challenge of game planning for a new team.
“It’s a little bit different from a coaching perspective to game plan for something you haven’t seen. We’re tweaking little things and it’s a clean slate to try to figure stuff out of the first time,” Fay said. “To experience something different and do something different, it’s something I’ve enjoyed about this format.”
Fay, along with other coaches, believe there’s a good possibility of an all District 4 final four. But they’ve got to take care of business on the field on Saturday first.
“Chewelah’s going to have something to say about it,” Fay said. “One week at a time.”