Tumwater High School’s defense stole the show Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
The second-ranked T-Birds held the top-ranked Archbishop Murphy Wildcats to their lowest offensive total of the season (71 yards) on their way to a 10-6 win in the Class 2A state semifinals.
But, on the flip side, Tumwater’s typically explosive offense showed its grit, churning out tough yards and picking up first downs at critical points to keep the Wildcats out of reach.
“They were tough,” sophomore running back Dylan Paine said. “They had some big kids. Some hard hitters.”
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Archbishop Murphy’s defense caused three fumbles — including one Ben Hines stripped and returned for a 12-yard touchdown — and stalled several Tumwater drives.
The Wildcats held Tumwater to 176 rushing yards — far less than its season average of 341 per game — but the T-Birds rallied and responded in crucial moments.
“We pulled something together and we scored,” Tumwater two-way lineman Cy Hicks said. “I’m really proud of my boys.”
Following a Wildcats fumble on their first drive of the second half, Tumwater took advantage of a short field, after setting up at Archbishop Murphy’s 34.
Paine, who finished with a game-high 32 carries for 118 yards, rushed on four consecutive plays to take the T-Birds into the red zone.
Connor Clark, a senior transfer from Olympia, eventually capped the short drive by scooting into the end zone untouched for a 5-yard touchdown.
“It was a counter, it was misdirection,” Clark said. “It was a wide-open hole. I just saw it and ran right through it.
“The touchdown was huge. 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.”
The T-Birds controlled possession much of the second half, and picked up four first downs on its final two drives in the fourth quarter, giving the Wildcats little opportunity to respond.
Paine converted on a critical third-and-9 with just under 10 minutes to play on a 10-yard screen pass from Elias Polito. The following play, he rushed for another 14 yards to keep the clock moving.
On Tumwater’s next drive, Paine took over.
He carried the ball on seven consecutive plays, picking up two first downs, to run the clock down to under one minute. His season rushing total is now just shy of 1,700 yards.
“The offensive line was giving a great push even at the end of the game,” Paine said. “They were tired, but we were still energized and ready to play.”
Tumwater’s defense ended Archbishop Murphy’s final threat, forcing three incompletions and a sack as time expired.
“People considered them the best team in the state, but we knew in our hearts we were the best team in the state,” Paine said. “It’s great to prove that to everyone who doubted us.”
Tumwater kicker Nathan Seaman connected for his seventh field goal of the state playoffs early in the fourth quarter with a 32-yarder. He has made all seven of his attempts — including three apiece in the first round and quarterfinals.
Legendary coach Sid Otton, who retired last season as the winningest high school football coach in state history, was one of many Tumwater faithful in attendance. All five of Tumwater’s state titles were won during his tenure.
This will be the first state championship appearance for first-year Tumwater coach Bill Beattie, a former player of Otton’s.