High School Sports

Seemingly inevitable meeting between Tumwater, Archbishop Murphy expected to be thrilling — again

Tumwater’s Noah Andrews dives into the end zone ahead of Archbishop Murphy defender Austin Earl for the go-ahead touchdown late in the 2A semifinal at the Tacoma Dome in November 2015. Tumwater won, 24-21, ending the Wildcats’ up-until-then perfect season.
Tumwater’s Noah Andrews dives into the end zone ahead of Archbishop Murphy defender Austin Earl for the go-ahead touchdown late in the 2A semifinal at the Tacoma Dome in November 2015. Tumwater won, 24-21, ending the Wildcats’ up-until-then perfect season. toverman@theolympian.com

This has been simmering for almost a year.

Both sides remember when Noah Andrews, Tumwater High School’s trusty all-purpose back, swept down the sideline at the Tacoma Dome last November.

“I take two hard steps, and scoop back, and just catch it and try to make a play,” Andrews said.

He caught Spencer Dowers’ pass at the 11-yard line, and outmaneuvered two Archbishop Murphy defenders, who fell at his feet.

Then, Andrews plunged from the 2-yard line, evading a third defender, and crashed into the pylon. Touchdown, Tumwater.

What was perhaps Tumwater’s most pivotal touchdown reception last season became the game-winning score one minute, 15 seconds later, and the T-Birds shocked the Wildcats, 24-21, in the Class 2A state semifinals.

“It was an awesome win, of course,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said. “It goes down as one of the better wins we’ve had, the way it finished.”

Cheers erupted from the sideline covered in green. The other showed disappointment and heartbreak after Archbishop Murphy squandered a two-score lead in the second half, and saw an otherwise perfect season come to a screeching halt.

Anfernee Gurley, an Archbishop Murphy senior, admits this has been eating at the Wildcats for a while.

“As soon as the game was over, we all came together as a team,” Gurley said. “We all said, ‘We’re going to get back here next year. We’re going to do it right next time, and get what has to be done, done.’ 

Next year is here. Next year happens at 1 p.m. Saturday at Tumwater District Stadium, when these two powerhouse programs clash again in what is projected to be a meeting of the state’s top two 2A teams.

Sound familiar?

“We refer back to it, but we know this is a completely new year, a completely new game,” said Cade Otton, who caused the Archbishop Murphy fumble that led to Andrew’s decisive touchdown.

“We have to do it ourselves. Last year’s game isn’t going to win us this game.”

Mostly, what it does is offer some sort of measuring stick for how competitive this budding rivalry has become.

“Last year’s game, you look at it, it was pretty low-scoring for the both of us,” Sid Otton said. “I don’t know what kind of game it’s going to end up being. It is low-scoring? Do both teams start ripping points, or what is it going to be?”

The biggest question, perhaps, is whether Tumwater can become the first team this season to tame the giant Archbishop Murphy has become.

In the six games the top-ranked Wildcats (11-0) have played this season, they’ve scored 307 points. They’ve allowed six points — yes, six, and that one touchdown was the product of a missed tackle in the fourth quarter, long after the game was decided.

The five other games Archbishop Murphy was scheduled for, the opposing teams elected to forfeit.

Andrews paused, searching for an answer on how to stop a team that has averaged more than 51 points per game.

“They’re aggressive,” he said. “They’re really aggressive. They’re bigger than everybody. They’re faster than everybody. We’ve got to match up on that, and I think we can.”

Arguably, second-ranked Tumwater (10-1) might have the best chance so far. The T-Birds have more than doubled their opponents in total yardage this season (4,270 yards to 2,052).

They’ve limited opponents to 2.4 yards per carry on the ground, and 5.7 yards per attempt through the air.

“Their defense, their front seven is amazing — extremely quick readers, flow to the ball, and their back end, they’re going to keep everything in front of them,” Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen said.

“You look at them and try to figure out what you’re going to do. Sometimes you shake your head.”

Both programs have won several games this season by a sizable margins, but neither Jensen nor Sid Otton seem to believe this contest will be lopsided.

“I have a feeling that this week is going to be a lot like (last year),” Jensen said. “I worry this week, going in there with all of the emotion and all of the alumni that are going to be there, those guys are going to be up.

“On the same token, our kids remember last year, and they want to play, and they’re going to be up. So, this should be a very competitive game.”

There are slight advantages and disadvantages on each side. Most notably, for Tumwater, the advantage of playing at home.

For Archbishop Murphy, the shortened schedule comes into play. Gurley estimated missing out on about 500 live reps on offense and defense in those five forfeited games.

“That was unfortunate for the kids to lose half of their season,” Jensen said. “Reps count, they really do, and we saw that last week. … It was a lot of teaching moments that weren’t able to occur over the course of the year because of those forfeits.”

Sid Otton equated the scale of this matchup to one Tumwater had earlier in the season.

“It’s kind of like last spring, when we were thinking about playing Bellevue,” he said. “… I asked the kids, ‘Do you want to play them?’ They just jumped at the chance. I know they feel the same way right now for this week.”

The T-Birds, at Bellevue High School, beat the Wolverines — the owners of 11 state titles since 2001 — in a thriller that ended with a Hail Mary pass from Andrews to Cade Otton as time expired.

Sid Otton anticipates the same sort of intensity against Archbishop Murphy on Saturday afternoon.

“We’re not forfeiting. We’re not just going to show up,” he said. “We’re going to go into any game with deep respect for who we’re playing — certainly for these guys, here — but the expectation is, somehow, we’re going to find a way.”

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12