FEDERAL WAY — With his players jumping up and down all around him at Memorial Stadium, Federal Way High School football coach John Meagher glossed over the prevailing theme of the Eagles’ twisting, twirling season.
They’ve trailed a lot at halftime.
And they’ve won a lot of games after that, including a 41-34 victory over fifth-ranked Richland on Friday night to reach the Class 4A state semifinals for the first time since 1976.
“I always say, the least important stat in all of football,” Meagher said, “is the halftime score.”
Federal Way (10-2) will travel to either Wenatchee or Chiawana for next week’s semifinals. Those two Eastern Washington schools meet Saturday in the 4A quarterfinals.
Trailing 21-7 at one point, the Eagles flipped the game entirely by forcing five Richland turnovers in the second half, including four interceptions of quarterback Zach Whitby.
After that, Federal Way turned to its standouts to take over. Chico McClatcher rushed for three touchdowns, threw a touchdown pass to Tyson Penn, picked off two passes and made the final key block on Keenan Curran’s 49-yard run so the Eagles could run out the clock.
Curran wasn’t too shabby himself. He rushed for a game-high 207 yards on 21 carries, ran for a pair of touchdowns and also picked off Whitby during the Bombers’ crumbling third quarter.
“Coming out for the second half, me, Chico and Khalil Howse called ourselves the ‘Legion of Zoom,’” Curran said. “We are not Richard Sherman or anything like that, but we are pretty fast guys. And we knew we could make plays.”
They had to. Richland built a big first-half lead by converting third downs. And when the Bombers didn’t, they went for it on fourth down, too – and made it.
But the Eagles went 57 yards on their first drive of the second half to tie the game at 28-all on McClatcher’s 11-yard touchdown run.
Suddenly the Richland offense went cold. Whitby, who was so successful competing big passes in the first half, struggled against the Eagles’ pressure – led by linebacker Jared Pulu, who had two sacks, a forced fumble and knocked down a pass.
Whitby threw four interceptions on Richland’s first six drives.
The first one was picked off by Curran. And right after that, Meagher went to his bag of tricks, calling McClatcher’s number on a halfback pass. The junior spiraled the ball right into the waiting arms of Penn for a 31-yard catch-and-run score with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter.
“We talked about it halftime,” Meagher said. “We said, ‘Hey, when our defense creates a turnover, we’ve been running toss (sweep) pretty successfully, Chico is very good throwing the football … so we had a chance to get it out there.’”
The Eagles led the rest of the way, but things got interesting late.
Richland cut it to 41-34 on Whitby’s 16-yard touchdown strike to Payton Radliff with three minutes to go.
After being stopped for no gain twice, then being called for a 10-yard block in the back penalty, the Eagles faced a third-and-16 from their own 44-yard line.
Somehow Curran squirted through two Richland defenders and made his way down the right sideline. McClatcher issued the final block to spring him for the long run to the Bombers’ 7.
“Hats off to Federal Way for playing a great game,” Richland coach Mike Neidhold said. “The better team may have won tonight.”
Or the team prone to come-from-behind heroics.
“We have the best heart in the state,” McClatcher said. “We will take a few punches, but we will come back and knock them out. We are the greatest second-half team in the state.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442