Tumwater High School had a plan for how it would handle the highest scoring offense in Class 2A.
And to say the T-Birds executed that plan well in Saturday’s state semifinal against top-ranked Archbishop Murphy would be a massive understatement.
Tumwater’s defense was near perfect, delivering a shutdown performance and allowing just 71 yards of total offense, as the second-ranked T-Birds stunned the Wildcats, 10-6, at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
“The kids just played so hard,” Tumwater defensive coordinator Tim Otton said. “I’ve never seen them play that hard.
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“We said it wasn’t going to take a superhuman effort, but it was going to take a great effort. We got a great effort from our defensive kids.”
Archbishop Murphy, the defending 2A state champions that ended Tumwater’s season in a blowout last year, was averaging a classification-high 42.8 points per game entering the semifinals.
Before Saturday, the Wildcats had scored at least three touchdowns in every game this season.
Tumwater had different ideas for its seemingly annual meeting with the Wildcats.
“A little bit of retaliation from last year,” two-way senior lineman Cy Hicks said. “We had a bitter taste in our mouth, and we came out here and executed.”
The T-Birds shut down Archbishop Murphy’s biggest threats early and often, and never allowed the Wildcats to reach the red zone.
“We felt like we could get home with the blitz,” Otton said. “We decided to heat it up a little bit.”
Running back Ray Pimentel, who entered with 2,080 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, finished with negative yards.
Four-star athlete Kyler Gordon, who has offers from college programs like Notre Dame, Stanford and Oregon, touched the ball just five times on offense and ended with negative yardage.
Victor Gabalis finished just 6 of 20 for 80 yards, and Tumwater sacked the sophomore quarterback seven times.
“The strength of this defense has always been our front four — this year especially,” Otton said. “I don’t know if we’ve had a better defensive line since maybe 2010.”
That happens to be the last time Tumwater won a state title.
The T-Birds have five in their history, and will advance to the championship game for the ninth time.
“These guys work their tails off every day,” said Tumwater coach Bill Beattie, who took over this season for retired legend Sid Otton, and will play in his first title game.
“They’ve earned it. They’ve worked so hard.”
The two programs entered the half scoreless, with neither managing much offense. But Tumwater broke into the end zone midway through the third quarter.
Following an Archbishop Murphy fumble, Tumwater started a short drive at the Wildcats’ 34.
Dylan Paine, who led all rushers with 32 carries for 118 yards, powered the T-Birds into the red zone before Connor Clark punched in the 5-yard score.
“The touchdown was huge,” Clark said. “It was (our) only touchdown of the game, and it was such a tight game. Both defenses were doing very well, and that was a momentum changer.”
Tumwater took the coveted lead only to fumble deep in its own territory on its next drive. Ben Hines scooped up the loose ball, and ran for a 12-yard touchdown. The PAT missed wide left, and Tumwater clung to a 7-6 lead.
Nathan Seaman gave the T-Birds a four-point cushion on the first play of the fourth quarter, connecting on a 32-yard field goal.
Archbishop Murphy had its best opportunity to take a late lead two drives later, but came up short at the Tumwater 24 trying to convert a fourth down.
“It was a dogfight,” Hicks said. “That’s what we expected from watching film with the coaches. We mentally prepared for it.”
Tumwater ran more than four minutes off the clock on the next drive, relying on Paine to churn out yards and pick up crucial first downs.
But the T-Birds eventually punted, pinning the Wildcats deep in their own territory with 48 seconds to play.
Gabalis threw incomplete on first and second down before being dropped for a 9-yard loss on third as time continued to tick.
The Wildcats snapped the ball on fourth down just before time expired, but Gabalis’ pass sailed over two receivers’ heads.
“It was a journey,” Beattie said. “We knew it was going to take 48 minutes. We talked about starting fast and finishing faster. These guys do it.”
Tumwater (11-2) plays Southwest District rival Hockinson (13-0) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome for the 2A state title.
NO. 1 ARCHBISHOP MURPHY 0 0 6 0_6
NO. 2 TUMWATER 0 0 7 3_10
T – Connor Clark 5 run (Nathan Seaman kick)
AM – Ben Hines 12 fumble return (kick failed)
T – Nathan Seaman 32 field goal