LACEY – Finally, Timberline football coach Nick Mullen saw a defensive performance he had been waiting to see.
The Blazers shut down North Thurston’s running game, and behind a backup quarterback they kept their 3A Narrows League title hopes alive with a 24-0 victory over the Rams on Friday night at South Sound Stadium.
“We’ve been building up and building up and getting better and better each week,” Mullen said. “We had two really good running teams two weeks in a row. I love where we’re at as a team. This is the most fun I think I’ve had as a coach emotionally for a long time.”
Timberline (7-1 overall, 5-0 league) can clinch the program’s second league title in the past three seasons with a victory over Shelton next week in the regular-season finale for both teams. Should Shelton and North Thurston win, the three teams would share the league crown.
Friday was the first time North Thurston (6-2, 4-1) has been shut out in the Lacey Showdown series since 2008 when the Blazers won, 7-0.
Timberline senior Chris MacNeil made his first start of the season at quarterback in place of injured Gabriel Gutierrez, who broke his arm in the third quarter of last week’s 40-6 win over Mount Tahoma. MacNeil, who started four games in 2011, completed 6 of 16 passes for 124 yards and had a pair of 33-yard touchdowns – to Malachi Jones and Markus Cuttino – that gave the Blazers a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Blazers’ defense also put on a show against a North Thurston team that had been averaging 33.5 points in its six victories and with two rushers – Mo Manning and Brandon Belisario – who’ve combined for more than 1,000 rushing yards through seven games. Timberline limited North Thurston to 81 yards on the ground, including minus-29 yards from five sacks of junior quarterback Ryan Mets.
Mets completed 7 of 19 passes for 87 yards but also had two interceptions. The Rams’ longest play came when Mets found Tru Hicks for a 47-yard pass that set up a first-and-10 at the Timberline 23 in the third quarter, but the Rams turned it over on downs.
There was a lot riding on Friday’s game for the Rams. A victory would have sealed the program’s first outright league title since 1992 – coach Rocky Patchin’s first season and also future NFL Pro Bowl selection Mike Sellers’ senior year. In 1999, North Thurston, along with Tumwater and Timberline, shared the Pacific-9 crown.
“They (Timberline) played great defense. They whupped us up front,” Patchin said. “We have to learn from that. That’s playoff football. We’ll see teams like that.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org @megwochnick www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports