LACEY – Timberline’s defense has been potent this season.
Although the Blazers’ defense didn’t play at its best at times against another playoff-bound team, the Shelton Highclimbers, Timberline came up big when it counted – in the fourth quarter.
Tied at 26 with less than 5 minutes left in the game, the Blazers grabbed interceptions on the Highclimbers’ final two drives, and the Timberline offense scored the winning touchdown for a 33-26 victory over Shelton on Friday night at South Sound Stadium.
The win secures Timberline (8-1 overall, 6-0 Narrows 3A) its first league title since 2009, when it went undefeated in the now-defunct Olympic Western League.
As league champions, the Blazers are the No. 1 seed and will host Chief Sealth, the Metro League’s No. 6 team, next week in the Week 10 district crossover playoff game.
“We weren’t being ourselves in the first half,” said Timberline senior Justace Buhl, who had three catches for 23 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter. “We were doing stupid mistakes. In the second half, we came out and lived by this motto, ‘How bad do you want success? As bad as you want to breathe.’ ... We wanted that No. 1 seed.”
Special teams were the difference for much of the game as Timberline had two 92-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns – one by Markus Cuttino and the other by Spencer Crump.
The latter tied the game at 26 with 7:02 remaining in the third quarter.
With 4:46 left in the game and facing a second-and-8 from their 25, Trent Gallagher scored the winning touchdown for the Blazers on a 75-yard run on a fly sweep down the left sideline.
After that, the Blazers’ two interception’s on Shelton’s final two drives came from Brandon Wetzel and Jeff Winstead.
“We finally got some picks,” Timberline coach Nick Mullen said. “Things weren’t going our way. ... Wetzel and Winstead were in perfect spots.”
Shelton running back Ralph Kinne, the state’s leading rusher coming into the game at 2,112 yards, had all four of the Highclimbers’ touchdowns on runs of 1, 5, 34 and 8 to increase his season total to 28.
But on nine of his 24 carries, he was held to zero or negative yardage. His longest run was his 34-yard touchdown run that cut Shelton’s deficit to 20-18 at halftime.
Shelton took the initial lead at 6-0 just 24 seconds into the game on Kinne’s 1-yard touchdown run. Kinne finished with 112 yards, a season low.
Shelton (8-2, 5-2) came into Friday’s game with a chance to not only force a three-way tie with Timberline and North Thurston for first place, but also claim the No. 1 seed.
The Highclimbers needed a victory over Timberline by eight or more points to earn the league’s top spot.
Shelton, which went a combined 6-34 the past four seasons, is still playoff bound for the first time since 2007 and will be the league’s No. 3 seed, traveling to face Nathan Hale, the Metro League’s No. 2 seed, next weekend.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org @megwochnick www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports