Jamie Weeks remembers when Tumwater High School’s deceptive running game — the one it is so well known for today — first took off.
He was in his second season as an assistant coach with the program in 1987, and Tumwater was trying something new.
The offense the T-Birds had run for more than a decade under coach Sid Otton — the twin veer — didn’t score them any points in their first trip to the state semifinals a year earlier.
They dropped a 6-2 loss to Burlington-Edison, then dropped the twin veer. Research and studying eventually led Otton and his staff to the wing-T.
“It emphasized the three running back game, and the quarterback could be one of those runners or not, and he threw the ball very little,” Weeks said.
The staff jumped in and went full throttle on the wing-T, Weeks said. Less than a year later, they saw just how effective it was.
Tumwater muscled its way to its first state-championship appearance in the Kingdome, and sophomore Karl Pfaff put on a show.
“We ran a lot of buck sweep that game,” Weeks said. “He was very elusive once he cut that corner, and he could break tackles — a low to the ground kind of guy.”
Pfaff, who finished that game with 151 yards on 15 carries, keyed a Tumwater comeback late in the first half that started with a 95-yard touchdown drive.
He scored the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard plunge, the T-Birds beat West Valley of Yakima, 21-14, and Tumwater’s rushing legacy was born.
“He’s a great one,” Otton said of Pfaff that night in 1987. “West Valley just didn’t know how to stop the crossbuck sweep.”
Weeks, now one of Tumwater’s offensive coordinators, was 27 when the T-Birds won that first state championship.
“Our first year, we won our first state championship with the wing-T, right out of the gate,” Weeks said. “Ever since, we’ve made the mark on the state of Washington in football.”
Three decades later, Tumwater has won five state championships (2010, 1993, 1990, 1989, 1987), and will play for its sixth at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Through the years, Tumwater has churned out its share of successful running backs that fill well into its system.
“It’s not just one running back,” Weeks said. “It’s three, four guys that can carry the ball in different ways. That’s a huge plus for the offense.”
The fullback. The halfback. The wingback.
At fullback, Weeks said the staff looks for a player like 5-foot-9, 145-pound sophomore Dylan Paine (290 carries, 1,698 yards, 24 TDs) who is leading Tumwater in rushing this season.
“They’re quick and they can slash side to side,” Weeks said. “And they just have a knack for finding those seams.”
Derek Lowe, who played fullback for Tumwater in the early 1990s, is still the program’s career leader in rushing with 4,303 yards.
Halfback, they’re looking for someone a bit bigger, with breakaway speed. Like a Zach Johnson, who broke Tumwater’s single-season rushing record (1,918 yards) in 2006.
Wingback has evolved with the offense, and been used more in recent years, Weeks said.
“Your wingback, a Scott Gurnsey for example, a Keith Clark, had the ability to break away, but could also cut and carry the ball pretty well,” Weeks said.
The success stories in Tumwater’s backfield are too many to name, but Weeks can rattle off an impressive list.
And it all starts with the wing-T system, which Tumwater has added to and tinkered with since 1987.
“The major focus is on the halfback and the fullback, but right when you’re focusing on one running back, somebody else is going to beat you,” Weeks said. “It’s really hard on a defense.”
This season, Tumwater features four running backs in Paine, seniors Connor Clark and Jakob Holbrook, and junior Zane Murphy.
“It’s deceptive,” Paine said. “We have a lot of fakes, multiple fakes on each play, so that tends to throw the defense off.”
All four of Tumwater’s running backs have rushed for more than 500 yards this season, with the T-Birds averaging 330 yards per game on the ground.
“We just feed off of each other,” Holbrook said. “You get one guy who’s running the ball well, and you’ve got the defense keying on him.
“Next thing you know, they’re biting on his fakes, and the next guy is getting yards after yards.”
2A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 3 HOCKINSON (13-0) VS. NO. 2 TUMWATER (11-2)
10 a.m. Saturday, Tacoma Dome
Road to the Dome: Hockinson — Defeated Pullman (first round), Liberty of Issaquah (quarterfinals) and West Valley of Spokane (semifinals). Tumwater — Defeated Lynden (first round), Steilacoom (quarterfinals) and Archbishop Murphy (semifinals).
Coaches: Hockinson — Rick Steele. Tumwater — Bill Beattie.
About the Hawks: Here’s some perspective on QB Canon Racanelli (237-333, 3,805 yards, 53 TDs) entering the title game. Through last week’s semifinals, he's eighth on the state’s all-time list for single-season passing TDs. That’s just two behind former Lincoln star Jordan Kitna (55 in 2014), while Prosser’s Kellen Moore (67 in 2013) tops the list. Racanelli has thrown for more than 300 yards in seven games this season to his trusted receiving corps, which includes sophomore Sawyer Racanelli (79 catches, 1,642 yards, 25 TDs). The dual-threat QB (106 carries, 595 yards, 16 TDs) has reached the end zone four or more times in every game, and has the Hawks averaging 46 points per game.
About the T-Birds: Tumwater has five state titles in its history (2010, 1993, 1990, 1989, 1987), and is making its fourth appearance in the championship game in six years. The T-Birds shocked the state in last week’s semifinals, knocking out defending state champion Archbishop Murphy with a herculean defensive effort. They held 2A’s top-ranked team to negative rushing yards, less than 100 total yards, and didn’t give up a defensive TD. For the season, Tumwater is allowing just 12 points per game, while averaging 330 rushing yards and 39 points. Tumwater has four running backs with more than 500 yards this season, led by sophomore Dylan Paine (290 carries, 1,698 yards, 24 TDs).
Olympian pick: Tumwater, 31-28.