For the first time this season, No. 1 Tumwater needed a miracle.
And with one minute, 42 seconds left in the Class 2A semifinal on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, the top-ranked T-Birds got one.
Clock ticking, the Archbishop Murphy Wildcats drove 44 yards to midfield before linebacker Cade Otton — who leads Tumwater this season with 118 tackles — took down Anfernee Gurley in the backfield and popped the ball out.
“He made some big plays throughout the game,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said of his grandson. “He’s just like a lot of these other guys — they keep battling. They just want to win.”
Never miss a local story.
Devon Shedd-Kirkland fell on the fumble to give Tumwater, which had not led the entire way, a final shot at the end zone.
“Obviously, being down, it gets to you,” running back Noah Andrews said. “With three minutes left, they get the ball back and get a first down, it’s hard.
“Cade came in clutch for us and got the fumble, and that’s huge. That’s what propelled us to win.”
And 27 seconds after the fumble, Andrews scored the winner, as Tumwater survived the No. 4 Wildcats, 24- 21, to advance to its eighth state championship appearance in history.
Andrews snagged a swing pass from quarterback Spencer Dowers and scurried in from 10 yards out to give the T-Birds their first lead — Tumwater had not trailed in a game this season until Saturday.
“I just saw Spencer look at me right when I did a little move on the corner,” Andrews said. “I caught the ball, and I saw the corner trip on his feet and dive at my legs. So, I put my hand on his helmet, pushed him to the ground and dove in.”
Andrews — the go-to guy for Tumwater in any situation — finished with 287 total yards (25 carries for 102 yards, two receptions for 43 yards, 7 of 12 passing for 142 yards) and two touchdowns.
His first touchdown, a 43-yard burst down the right sideline, opened the scoring for the T-Birds with 6:04 to play in the second quarter.
But it was overshadowed by Archbishop Murphy’s 21-point second quarter — the most points Tumwater has allowed in a single quarter all season.
“We know what we can do when we’re playing our best, and we knew we weren’t playing our best,” Cade Otton said.
Two of the Wildcats’ three touchdowns were the result of Tumwater turnovers.
After forcing a fumble by Dowers, Archbishop Murphy quarterback Connor Johnson found Bailey Singh-Halpin for a 32-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the possession.
On the ensuing T-Birds’ drive, Gurley picked off Andrews. He later scooted through Tumwater’s defense for 33 yards to cap a three-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Andrews’ touchdown cut the lead to seven, but the T-Birds turned the ball over on downs with 1:06 to play in the half.
The Wildcats drove 77 yards, helped by back-to-back deep passes from Johnson to Gurley (41 yards) and Kyler Gordon (26 yards).
Johnson, who finished 13 of 18 passing for 293 yards, punched it in from 1 yard out on a quarterback sneak as the half expired.
Archbishop Murphy outgained the T-Birds, 219-162, in the first half.
“It was tough,” Dowers said. “Obviously, we had a couple of doubts, but we went in there at halftime and we talked — we aren’t losing, we don’t want to lose, that’s just not part of our play this year.”
Dowers connected with Otton on the opening drive of the third quarter. Otton spun off a defender to pull in Dowers’ 21-yard touchdown pass.
“He’s so good, even if they double-team him he gets open,” Dowers said. “It was a normal pass play, he was covered, he went the opposite way and was wide open.
“He just does the little things that make it so amazing.”
Otton had four catches for 126 yards.
Nathan Seaman connected for a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter to pull the T-Birds within four, 21-17, but they turned it over on downs on the following two drives — the second time from Archbishop Murphy’s 4-yard line — to give the Wildcats control with 3:58 remaining.
But a couple of minutes later, Otton forced the fumble that led to Andrews’ winner.
After Andrews’ touchdown, the Wildcats got the ball back and drove 44 yards to Tumwater’s 34-yard line, but Aiden Slater sacked Johnson as time expired.
“We found a way to win,” Cade Otton said. “That’s what good teams do, and hopefully we can finish next week.”
The T-Birds (13-0) play No. 6 Prosser (12-1) at 10 a.m. next Saturday at the Tacoma Dome for the 2A title.
CLASS 1B: Almira/Coulee-Hartline (12-1) vs. Lummi (9-2), 4 p.m.
CLASS 3A: Eastside Catholic (12-0) vs. Bellevue (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
CLASS 2A: Prosser (12-1) vs. Tumwater (13-0), 10 a.m.
CLASS 1A: Royal (13-0) vs. King’s (12-1), 1 p.m.
CLASS 2B: Okanogan (12-1) vs. Napavine (11-2), 4 p.m.
CLASS 4A: Gonzaga Prep (13-0) vs. Skyline (12-1), 7:30 p.m.