LACEY - In the past three games, something was missing for the North Thurston Rams.
Three games had equaled three losses, with their last win coming Sept. 21 against Yelm. With the Rams' playoff hopes hanging on by the slimmest of margins, coach Rocky Patchin told his team one thing this week.
"We asked them to have four great quarters," Patchin said. "Some games we have good halves, but the concentration this week was four great quarters."
The Rams responded Friday night in their final Class 3A Western Cascade Conference game of the season against crosstown rival Timberline with a 20-6 win at South Sound Stadium. With the win, both North Thurston (5-3 overall 3-3 WCC) and Timberline (3-5 overall 2-3 WCC) will need Shelton to beat Capital next Friday.
If that happens, North Thurston and Timberline will be in a three-way tie with Capital for the No. 3 and final WCC playoff spot. It would result in a Kansas tie-breaker to determine the No. 3 seed. If Capital wins, the Cougars receive the No. 3 playoff spot.
"We really needed this win," Rams running back Zarak Simmons said. "Everyone was hungry to win. We just needed to pull it all together.
"We're all pulling for Shelton."
Simmons finished the night with 95 yards rushing on 15 carries, including two 20-yard runs.
His big night could be attributed to something that happened two weeks ago. Following North Thurston's 43-21 loss to Lakes, Simmons' No. 7 jersey was taken from his locker, allegedly by a Lakes player.
Against Timberline, he wore No. 24. And his reasoning isn't just that he needed another jersey.
"The last time we beat Timberline (five years ago), our team's best running back wore No. 24. I wanted to wear this in honor of him."
It was Timberline that got on the scoreboard first on a 14-play drive that resulted in 1-yard touchdown by Blazers quarterback Mike Jones. The touchdown was questionable, as the officials gathered for a brief time following the play to discuss whether the ball made it past the goal line. A minute later, they signaled a touchdown with 3:55 left in the first quarter.
But that would be the only offense Timberline had, as North Thurston's defense stopped the Blazers' running backs on fourth downs on more than one occasion. Divonte Fortune led a 1-2 running attack for the Blazers with 54 yards on nine carries.
"We'll be all right," Timberline coach Nick Mullen said. "It's the little things you have to clean up that we didn't do tonight. It was a hard-fought game that no one wants to lose. This is a hard one to swallow."
The Rams' Taylor Warner, who had two of North Thurston's touchdowns, scored his first of the night on an 8-yard run with 11:10 left in the second quarter.
Ahead 7-6 at halftime, North Thurston's Will Sharp had a big 25-yard return to open the second half to set up a first-and-10 at the Timberline 45. Sharp's 13-yard catch and Warner's 14-yard run would help set up a first-and goal from the 10.
Two plays later, Rams quarterback Jacob Klumker scored from 1-yard out to increase the Rams' lead to 13-6. Klumker finished 7-for-9 for 74 yards and Sharp pulled down five catches for 67 yards.
"He showed great leadership," Patchin said. "He got pounded at times out there and he made some nice throws."
The Rams' final score came on Warner's second and final TD of the night, another 8-yard run with 8:26 left in the fourth. Despite the loss, Timberline had 238 yards of total offense, compared to North Thurston's 230.
Timberline will need to beat Yelm next week, and will need to get help from Shelton, to pull into a three-way for the No. 3 playoff spot.