LACEY - The potency of Timberline's offense is well-documented and was on display Friday night. The Blazers' defense, which hasn't received the same acclaim, has been just as good for much of the year.
Timberline defenders did pick their spots, however, and those spots were huge.
The Blazers locked up the Olympic Western League title with a much-closer-than-it-looked 35-17 win over host and rival North Thurston at South Sound Stadium in front of a large crowd on a very windy evening.
“It was an ugly win, but I’ll take ugly when it’s for a league championship,” Blazers coach Nick Mullen said. “This game is always full of emotions, and that’s how it was played.”
North Thurston and Timberline (9-0, 7-0) are both in the playoffs and in action next Friday. Timberline will host Kennedy at South Sound Stadium, while the Rams will play on the road against an undetermined opponent.
Timberline’s electric offense was as advertised Friday, racking up 387 rushing yards while running back Jordan Radcliffe and quarterback Kevin Russell put together a veritable highlight reel.
Despite a ton of yards, there was not a ton of scoring, and North Thurston (6-3, 5-2) was well within striking distance, trailing just 21-10 with half the fourth quarter remaining.
Twice in the fourth quarter, North Thurston saw potential touchdown opportunities evaporate on dropped passes.
The Rams lost another golden opportunity early in the game when Lawyer Tillman, who finished with 123 yards on 22 carries, broke free for a 42-yard gain in the first quarter that left North Thurston set up at the Timberline 1. The Blazers stopped Tillman three times and Luke Kitterman once to take over on downs and maintain their 7-3 lead.
The turnover on downs led to an 11-yard Russell touchdown run that was followed by the first of two Quinton Sison scores that pushed the Blazers’ lead to 21-3 at the half.
“This is probably the worst defensive game we’ve played all year,” Mullen said. “It was super-bend but don’t break. Our kids made stops when it counted, and that’s all that matters.”
North Thurston actually outplayed the Blazers for most of the second half. The Rams cut into the lead late in the third quarter when quarterback Jake Klumker hooked up with Buck Lett on a 14-yard score to make it 21-10, but a few missed opportunities later and Timberline’s perfect regular season was in the books.
“That’s the best Timberline team they’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Rams coach Rocky Patchin, in his 18th year at North Thurston. “Good running game, good passing game, and I thought our kids battled them hard tonight.”
It was primarily that running game that was on display. Radcliffe finished with 171 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown, while Russell rushed for 87 yards on just six runs. Sison, a sophomore who played for the Rams in this game a year ago, ran for 94 yards on only six attempts and pulled in a big interception late.
“I just came in focused,” Sison said. “Switching from North Thurston to the rival, I had to keep my head on straight, keep this team up and play hard. Now we’ve just got to keep up the focus all the way to the (Tacoma) Dome.”