The high school football season gets under way Wednesday as teams hit the field for their first practices. The 2013 season had big storylines from Tumwater playing in its second consecutive Class 2A state title game to Tenino winning its first league title since 1986.
This fall features teams in new leagues and new classifications, meaning new rivalries will be formed. A few schools’ league games are all against non-Thurston County foes.
Here’s what to watch for in 2014:
A stacked 4A Narrows
Between reigning league champion Gig Harbor, Bellarmine, Olympia and newcomer Timberline, it will make for a tight race for who’s in and who's out of the playoff picture. The Blazers won the past two 3A Narrows League titles and face Olympia (Week 4), Bellarmine (Week 5) and Gig Harbor (Week 6) over three consecutive weeks while Olympia gets Gig Harbor and Bellarmine back-to-back Weeks 7 and 8. Two out of the past four years, the Bears and Lions’ Week 8 matchup has had league title implications.
Is Tumwater Dome-bound again?
With a combined 10 returnees on both sides of the ball, the Thunderbirds could make a strong case for returning to the Class 2A state title game for a third consecutive year and fourth time in five years. But like the rest of the teams in the condensed, four-team 2A EvCo (Tumwater, Black Hills, Centralia, W.F. West), it must play more non-league games (six) than league games (three) and going undefeated in league play is crucial for playoff seeding. Tumwater faces everyone from 4A (Timberline) to 1A (La Center) to fill the non-league schedule gaps.
Heading north and west
The new two-year reclassification brings a new league for River Ridge (SPSL 2A) and a new league and classification for Rainier (Pacific 2B). With that comes a new set of opponents. While River Ridge faces just one local team (North Thurston in Week 2), Rainier will not play a Thurston County team all year. River Ridge, meanwhile, joins a Pierce County-based SPSL 2A, making it the first time since the school opened in 1993 that it’s in a Pierce County-dominated league (Narrows League, 1993-’99).
3 GAMES TO WATCH
Rochester at Aberdeen, 7 p.m. Oct. 2, Stewart Field
Why is a Week 5 game so important? If you’re Rochester and Aberdeen, it’s the capper game that could send you to the playoffs. Because of the hybrid 2A/1A league, both Class 2A Rochester and Aberdeen need to be undefeated against 2A opponents (they each have two 2A non-league games) and must win 75 percent of their games with 1A opponents to earn a play-in game against the 2A Evergreen Conference’s lowest seed. Winner of that game heads to the 2A District IV playoffs.
Capital at North Thurston, 7 p.m. Oct. 24, South Sound Stadium
Capital fared just fine as a 2A school the past two years — two playoff berths, including a state semifinal appearance in 2012 — and is back in the 3A Narrows League for the first time since 2011 when it went undefeated in league play on its way to a state quarterfinal berth. This Week 8 game should have playoff implications at stake for both teams. Capital and North Thurston haven’t been in the same league since 2009.
Tumwater at W.F. West, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, Bearcat Stadium
If the Week 9 showdown on Halloween is like the 2013 Tumwater-W.F. West game in Chehalis, get ready for a ride. It’s the regular-season finale for both teams and both could be undefeated in league (at 2-0) by kickoff.
3 PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB/OL Grant Williams, sr., North Thurston
Thrived as a first-time middle linebacker, making the transition from a pass-rushing defensive end. Expect bigger things from Williams as a senior; the 240-pounder’s off-season regime included a daily 2-mile run.
DB/specialist Stevie Cleveland, sr., Timberline
He isn’t big (5-foot-7), but he’s fast and fierce with the ball in his hands. His junior season featured 550 punt and kick return yards and six tackles for loss at free safety.
LB/HB Trevor Davis, sr., Tumwater
A pure, all-around talent who rarely steps off the field. Had 86 tackles and seven sacks, plus 557 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns. What more will he do as a senior?
DID YOU KNOW?
Thirty years ago this fall, a pair of firsts happened: Olympia High won the Class AA state title and Rocky Patchin, now entering his 23rd season at North Thurston, won his first state title while coaching in Idaho. Olympia, coached by Bob Dunn in 1984, won the program’s first state title, defeating West Valley of Spokane, 28-14, to finish the season 12-1 behind Black Hills League defensive player of the year Randy Swilley, now in his first season as Tenino’s head coach. Meanwhile, in Nampa, Idaho, Patchin led A-1 (now Class 4A) Nampa to an Idaho state title. It remains the Bulldogs’ only football state title. Patchin coached at Nampa until 1990 before coming to Lacey in 1992.