Pat Alexander pointed at the scoreboard, giving credit where credit was do.
“Hey, they scored 48 points. Archbishop Murphy’s a great football team and they were better than us today,” the longtime Tumwater High School defensive coordinator said after his team was distanced in the second half Saturday by the visiting Wildcats, 48-10, in the Class 2A state quarterfinals.
Breaking down the numbers, though, shows the Thunderbirds were tough on defense early, making the top-ranked Wildcats compete longer than they might have thought coming in.
Fourteen of the Archbishop Murphy points came on a pair of second-half pick sixes — one from 41 yards out by Kyler Gordon and a decisive 97-yarder by Collin Montez — against a Tumwater offense adjusting on the fly to a bicep injury that limited starting quarterback Noah Andrews to a running back or receiver role most of the day.
The Wildcats’ monstrous offensive line, featuring three 300-pounders and 6-foot-8, 260-pound tackle Abraham Lucas — the reason five scheduled opponents forfeited during the season — couldn’t open gaps for running backs until garbage time. Second-ranked Tumwater held the Wildcats to eight yards rushing in the first half.
“We ran some slants to try to negate their size,” said Alexander, who retired after the game, along with legendary head coach Sid Otton and defensive backfield coach Steve Shoun, taking a combined century-plus of coaching the T-Birds with them.
“Our linebackers did a great job shutting down the run,” said Tumwater defensive back Trystin Wallerstedt.
Fellow DB Trayten Rodriguez agreed.
“All of us as a team did a great job converging on the ball,” he said.
Even when Archbishop Murphy (12-0) started having some success throwing the ball, finishing with 196 yards through the air, Tumwater (10-2) hung around thanks to third-quarter interceptions by Wallerstedt and Rodriguez.
Up 17-10 starting the second half, the Wildcats sprang speedy receiver Anfernee Gurley wide open at the T-Birds’ 45, but the ball slid off his fingers. Gurley atoned for the drop on the following play, making a catch over the middle to put Archbishop Murphy in Tumwater territory.
But Wallerstedt stepped in front of Gurley on the next play to intercept at the 30 and ran it back 37 yards to the Wildcats’ 33.
“(Archbishop Murphy quarterback Connor Johnson) underthrew it and I was in the right spot,” Wallerstedt said.
When the Wildcats marched to a first-and-goal just inside the Tumwater 10 on their next possession, it was Rodriguez’s turn to use both his hands and his football IQ to frustrate Archbishop Murphy.
As Johnson prepared to take the snap, Rodriguez spotted him making a hand signal to Gurley.
“I could kind of tell where the ball was going to go from that,” he said. Johnson threw over the middle for Gurley, but Rodriguez stepped in front to intercept just inside the end zone for a touchback.
Unfortunately for the overflow crowd of mostly T-Birds fans at Tumwater District Stadium, a Wildcats interception turned the tide for good.
Down 24-10, Andrews, able only to run keepers, and backup quarterback Matthew Brown, engineered a 12-play, 74-yard drive that left the T-Birds with a fourth-and-goal at the Archbishop Murphy 6-yard line late in the third quarter. Brown’s pass intended for Andrew May, who had caught Tumwater’s only touchdown pass earlier, was intercepted by Montez, who ran it back for the touchdown that ended any doubt as to the outcome.
“It’s bittersweet,” said defensive backs coach Shoun of his final game after 35 years on the Tumwater staff. “In the first half we were right where we needed to be. The kids made some plays. But Archbishop Murphy changed their philosophy in the second half and were a lot more effective.”