Perhaps it was the cold weather, an afternoon kickoff, a cramped locker room that forced players to put on gear outside, or the picturesque view of Mount Rainier in the near distance.
Whatever the reason, the top-ranked Tumwater Thunderbirds didn’t have their best first half of football Saturday, and it showed. They trailed in a postseason game for the first time, and they led at halftime by just seven points.
“Slow and sluggish,” junior linebacker Addison Barrett said. “We shouldn’t have done that.”
But three third-quarter touchdowns in a 4-minute,
9-second span quickly silenced the White River crowd, forcing some to head to the exits early, as the undefeated Thunderbirds defeated the Hornets, 45-7, in a Class 2A state quarterfinal game at Orting Stadium.
For the second consecutive year, Tumwater (12-0) heads east of the Cascades to face Prosser (9-3) in the state semifinals next Saturday. A time and location for the game will be announced later.
Prosser topped Mark Morris, 41-22, on Saturday in Vancouver. Tumwater won last year’s semifinal over Prosser, 35-21.
The Thunderbirds led 14-7 at halftime, but their 24-point third-quarter run put the game out of reach for White River (8-4), making its first appearance in the state playoffs since 2004. After Elijah Hill’s 37-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in the third, Tumwater’s lead had ballooned to 38-7.
Five of Tumwater’s six touchdowns needed just 20 plays to execute.
“We just spread it out and started playing our game,” sophomore Easton Trakel said.
Trakel led the T-Birds with 96 yards on seven carries and five catches for 136 yards.
In a 22-second span in the third quarter, Tumwater scored two touchdowns — a 41-yard catch by Griffin Shea and a 33-yard run by Trakel — that were jump-started by the defense forcing a White River punt and a fumble.
Tumwater scored 17 points off four turnovers — all fumbles.
“When we have them inside the 20 and get turnovers and fumbles like that, and the offense comes back, that just kills a team,” Barrett said.
White River hung with Tumwater in the first half. The Hornets did just about everything right on their opening drive: a 12-play, 87-yarder capped by Keenan Fagan’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
White River capitalized on a Tumwater red-zone fumble to start the game and converted on two third-and-long situations — as well as a halfback pass by Fagan to Dustin France that set up a first-and-goal play — to put Tumwater in a hole for the first time this postseason.
Tumwater’s Christian Cummings had 64 yards on 12 carries, including touchdowns on runs of 7, 3 and 2 yards.
Cummings’ two first-half touchdown runs gave the Thunderbirds their 14-7 halftime lead, which could have been smaller had Alex Morris’ field-goal attempt not hooked right after White River quarterback Sean Hayes marched the Hornets to within range after starting the drive at their own 20.