This weekend is a pivotal time for state playoff football teams. Not only is it the state quarterfinals and another chance to step up the state ladder, but it is the last chance before the Tacoma Dome for most Western Washington teams.
For Montesano, Raymond and Taholah, the trip to Tacoma is one game away, but not on their agendas. Their opponents — King’s of Shoreline, LaConner and Lummi — are.
At Stewart Field in Aberdeen on Saturday, Taholah (7-3) will start up the trio’s state quarterfinals tilt by hosting Lummi (9-2) in a Class 1B/eight-man contest at 3 p.m.
Montesano (9-2) will take the field in a state 1A contest against playoff rival King’s (11-0) after the Taholah-Lummi contest, tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. at Stewart Field.
While Taholah and Montesano stay close to home, Raymond (7-2) will hit the road to Mount Vernon High School to take on LaConner (10-1) in a state 2B game, also at 3 p.m.
This is the third consecutive postseason meeting between the Bulldogs and the Knights — King’s upset Montesano in the first round in 2010 and Montesano ran over King’s in the quarterfinals in 2011.
The teams are very familiar with each other and King’s already has one trip to the Harbor under its belt, to Hoquiam and a 28-13 first-round victory at Olympic Stadium.
“They were two great teams going at it; there were opportunities for both to win the game,” Montesano head coach Terry Jensen said of the first-round game. “It just seemed that most of the big plays went King’s way after the first quarter and a half. One of the big things about King’s is that it is a veteran team — eight starters back on offense and seven on defense — it isn’t going to get rattled if it gets behind. Cascade Christian and Hoquiam both had opportunities, only to be stopped by the Knights’ (red-zone) defense. If you are one-dimensional on offense, or they make you one-dimensional, they have proven you will struggle.”
Last year, Montesano dominated the line of scrimmage and controlled the offensive possessions with a grinding offense that kept King’s’ offense off the field. Billy Green, a BYU recruit who threw for 237 yards against Hoquiam last week, threw for 212 yards against the Bulldogs last year. However, he played from behind from the second quarter on in that contest.
Against Charles Wright on the road last week, Monte’s offense set the tone with a very quickly played drive that took the Tarriers’ defense out of any rhythm. A 23-7 halftime lead, on the legs of three Tucker Ibabao touchdowns, and a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter was all Montesano needed.
Coach Jensen noted that his team did get bogged down in the second half, but credited Charles Wright’s linemen in helping that to happen.
“Certainly one of the highlights would be how we played with so much emotion, which is something we worried about early in the year,” Jensen said. “Guys were excited for their teammates when they made plays, and congratulating each other when good things were happening, and picking each other up when we made mistakes. (Charles Wright’s) size did wear us down in the second half, I don’t think it was the pace of the game, but I think we grabbed the momentum back also at the end of the game as we were on the verge of scoring again. Certainly, we can’t have any letdowns against King’s, they have earned where they are in the rankings.”
Jensen reported Montesano has no significant injuries and all players are available for the contest.
Every playoff team and their coaches love to have a little bit of adversity to fight through to show the character and strength of a team. Raymond got that in aces after the first half of its first-round contest against Napavine.
The Gulls walked into the Stewart Field locker room with negative yards on their offensive totals. The same team walked off the field at the end of the game by dominating the second half for a 19-14 win.
“I just loved the heart we showed; we had some adversity out there and we made the adjustments at halftime,” said Raymond head coach Rob Clements, who was a member of the last Raymond football team to venture into the state quarterfinals.
“Our first half was the worst tackling half of football. Credit to (Napavine running back Layne) Hellem, but we corrected it in the second half. We had guys in position in the first half, but didn’t get the job done like we had all year. We’ll adjust. It won’t be a concern.”
The Braves will come into this contest after rolling past Wahkiakum, 41-20. Running back Dahlton Zavala ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns, with Jimmy Brooks adding two rushing touchdowns, to lead LaConner. Quarterback Sean Hulbert added 116 yards passing (11-of-16 attempts) and one score as well to compliment the rushing attack.
“They’re very solid and similar to us — speed, offense is no-huddle, zone read stuff you see in college,” Clements said. “It is very similar to the game Naselle runs, but they’re faster than Naselle across the board. We’ve seen the system. Now we have to go out, make our adjustments and make the tackles in space.”
Clements noted that his team’s focus has been solid on the task at hand, especially since this is the first quarterfinal appearance for the school since 2000.
“The focus has been forward,” he said. “The goal was to win the league and we focused on it. Once we won the league, we set our goal to get to the Dome. To get to the Dome, you have to win the games in front of you. This is a team that is ready to step out there and play the team that’s in front of them. They don’t feel like they’re happy (just) to be there. The way we settled down and took care of business in the second half (against Napavine), this is just another step toward achieving our goal.”
The first time Taholah and Lummi met in Lummi in the third week of the season, the Chitwhins were short-handed and the Blackhawks registered their fourth straight victory over Taholah since 2009, 59-24.
But a lot has changed during the season, especially at Taholah — six straight wins in games played (seven, if you include a forfeit), including last week’s 52-16 quad-district win over Quilcene to get into the quarterfinals.
“All in all, we’re a more complete team with more depth and better leadership,” Taholah head coach Donald Waugh said. “As coaches, we’ve gotten better, too. This is a different feeling. I can feel it from the kids. They are confident.”
One of the biggest differences between the early season meeting and this one will be a full arsenal of players at Taholah’s disposal, especially the Curleybear and Winn brothers. Quarterback Keanu Curleybear has developed into the type of quarterback the Chitwhins have wanted historically.
Keanu’s older brother, Justin, has been one of the team’s biggest scoring threats and both of them have enjoyed the protection on the offensive line solidified by brothers Joseph and Derrick Winn. Waugh also cited the play of Cleve Jackson, who has become the quarterback of the defense, especially during the winning streak.
“Getting the Curleybear boys back this year, also getting the Winn brothers, has been a big difference,” Waugh said. “It has been nothing but good thing for those guys. They’ve brought the team together as a whole. We’re clicking on all cylinders. I can fell that we have a good shot. In years past, I really didn’t feel that we were ready.”
Also, the benefit of playing Lummi earlier in the season gave Waugh and the coaches a motivation tool for their players. The losing streak, the Blackhawks’ state titles and the chance to play them again were all there.
“Ever since we played them at the beginning of the year, we’ve used them as the example,” Waugh said. “We really have them scouted out and the kids really believe they have a good handle on what they’re going to face. We need to eliminate our penalties and cut down on the fumbles. Those are the key figures. I think they called back five touchdowns on penalties (vs. Quilcene). You can’t have that this time around.”
State quarterfinal pairings:
At Aberdeen (Stewart Field): 6 p.m. — King’s vs. Montesano.
At Battle Ground: 1 p.m. — Mount Baker vs. La Center.
At Moses Lake: 1 p.m., — Cle Elum/Roslyn vs. Royal.
At Kennewick: Noon — Quincy vs. River View.
At Mount Vernon: 3 p.m. — Raymond vs. LaConner.
At Centralia: 7 p.m. — Morton/White Pass vs. Mossyrock.
At West Valley (Spokane): 1 p.m. — Waitsburg/Prescott vs. Reardan.
At Gonzaga Prep (Spokane): 6 p.m. — DeSales vs. Lind-Ritzville/Sprague.
At Pasco (Edgar Brown Stadium): 4 p.m. — LaCrosse-Washtucna/Kahlotus vs. Liberty Christian.
At Gonzaga Prep (Spokane): 7 p.m. — Touchet vs. Cusick.
At Aberdeen (Stewart Field): 3 p.m. — Taholah vs. Lummi.
At Silverdale Stadium: TBA — Neah Bay vs. Mary M. Knight.