Like climbing a mountain, the Tumwater Thunderbirds see the four rounds of the state football playoffs as four stages to reach the summit.
Stage 1 is more like a semifinal-caliber matchup with the fourth-ranked T-Birds (8-1) traveling north to face No. 2-ranked and two-time defending state champion Lynden tonight at 7 at Bellingham’s Civic Stadium.
Since losing to Olympia in overtime in the first game of the season, Tumwater has scored 40 or more points in seven of its next eight games. Although the Thunderbirds won the 2A Evergreen Conference title and earned a bye, the district seedings were shuffled, thanks to Mark Morris’ 20-18 victory over Centralia last week. In turn, the EvCo’s top two teams must play the top two teams in the first round – Tumwater vs. Lynden, and No. 5 Chehalis on the road to play No. 1-ranked Archbishop Murphy.
“It’s going to be extremely tough,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said. “Ideally, you’d like it at the end, but you have to play them somewhere. If it’s on the schedule, let’s play it.”
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The Lions (10-0) have a rich tradition and have won three of the past four state titles. They operate a shotgun-spread, no-huddle offense, and have sophomores at many positions, including at quarterback with Josh Kraght. He has thrown for 1,372 yards and 18 touchdowns and has rushed for 833 yards and 14 TDs. Four of Lynden’s receivers have at least 20 catches.
But the Lions’ defense will have to deal with all-everything senior Kyle Warner, who was named EvCo MVP earlier this week. He has done it all for the T-Birds on offense, defense and special teams, including a school-record three kickoff returns for touchdowns. He leads the team with 19 touchdowns and has 507 receiving yards and 304 rushing yards.
A deciding factor in tonight’s game could be the play of special teams, something Warner said has been a big emphasis this season.
“We thrive on special teams this year,” Warner said. “Special teams has helped us win a lot of games, and it really set the tone each game this season.”
Last week, the Tumwater players got a special treat when Larry Nielson, a Tumwater graduate who played football for the school in the 1960s, spoke to the team as they geared up for its playoff run. In 1983, Nielson was the first American to climb Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain at 29,035 feet, without supplemental oxygen. He compared his experiences of mountain climbing with the football state playoffs.
“You can’t get to four until you get to one,” Otton said. “You never know when you play a team that could be a state champion.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/prepsportsblog
CLASS 2A PLAYOFF GAME
TUMWATER (8-1) VS. LYNDEN (10-0)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Civic Stadium, Bellingham.
THE LOWDOWN: Programs with storied pasts meet in a semifinals-caliber first-round matchup. Lynden has won back-to-back state titles and three of the past four, and these two teams last met in the 2006 semifinals, with the Lions victorious, 20-10. Although the Lions are full of youth on both side of the ball, sophomore QB Josh Kraght is dangerous with his arm and legs. He’s thrown for 1,372 yards and also rushed for another 833. EvCo MVP Kyle Warner is averaging 56.7 yards per kick-off return, as special teams could be the deciding factor. Warner also has a team-leading 19 touchdowns and has 507 receiving yards.
THE PICK: Tumwater 27, Lynden 21
Meg Wochnick, staff writer