Jerry Jensen doesn’t exactly remember what happened to the wooden board that had Tumwater High School’s name etched across it, but the story is they burned it.
“That’s probably exactly what happened,” Jensen said.
When Jensen, now in his fourth season as the head coach of the Archbishop Murphy football program, played at Cascade High School in Everett, the team established a ritual.
Each week, coach Terry Ennis — a legend in Washington — and his staff would give the players a sign. It was a 2-by-4 with the name of that week’s opponent written across the front. It was a motivational tool at practice during the week, with the idea that, after a win, the team would ceremonially destroy it.
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“You break the board … and then you get another board for the next week,” Jensen said.
But Tumwater’s board wasn’t broken.
In 1991, Jensen’s junior season, the T-Birds — at that time nationally ranked and riding a 27-game winning streak, spanning three seasons, that eventually grew to 32 games before Shelton broke it — visited Everett in Week 2.
Tumwater left with a 16-6 win, and the board remained intact. Cascade didn’t lose another game that season, and beat Puyallup, 14-7, for its only state title.
This is how Pat Alexander, Tumwater’s longtime defensive coordinator, recalls what Ennis and his program did next — Cascade took all of those broken signs, from all of the teams it had beat that season, and burned them.
“They won the state championship, and they had all of these broken signs,” Alexander said. “He said, ‘OK, go get Tumwater’s,’ because we had beat them. ‘Go get Tumwater’s sign, because we’re going to burn it anyway.’
“But the only way he would have done that is if they won the state championship,” Alexander said.
The next season, Jensen’s senior year, Tumwater — the owner of three of its five state titles at that point — bested Cascade again.
“When they came down and played us here, they had us at halftime a bit, but the second half we got things rolling and beat them,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said.
Jensen has been back to Tumwater sporadically since. He caught a couple of games there last year, he said, and he’s coached against Black Hills at Tumwater District Stadium before.
But Saturday’s state quarterfinal meeting between Tumwater (10-1) and Archbishop Murphy (11-0), the state’s top two 2A teams, will be the first time Jensen has played the T-Birds in that stadium since the 1992 loss.
“I think, going against a team like Tumwater, you just know it’s a great challenge,” Jensen said. “You know they’re going to do everything right, that you have to play a flawless game in order to have a chance to win.”
This burgeoning rivalry between Archbishop Murphy and Tumwater is a bit more storied than you might realize.
Jensen laughed, as he said he considers himself 1-3 versus the Otton family. The three losses are the two with Cascade, and Archbishop Murphy’s 24-21 loss to the T-Birds in the 2A state semifinals last season.
His victory was in 1996, as a linebacker at Washington, when he was named Pac-10 player of the week after bringing USC quarterback Brad Otton to the ground several times in a 21-10 win.
“I definitely remember getting hit a lot against them,” Brad Otton said.
Jensen collected a team-high three of Washington’s six sacks in that game. He gestured to a photo on his cellphone, picturing him and a teammate sandwiching Otton. It looks like Otton is about to lose the ball, but did the quarterback fumble?
“No, and that’s what I’m thinking,” Jensen smiled. “I don’t know why I didn’t go higher on him. Those are all things that you learn, I guess.”
Jensen was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round of the 1998 NFL draft, but retired not long after because of injuries.
He came back to Washington, got married, started a business, and was present when Ennis created the Archbishop Murphy football program in 2000, and became an assistant coach several years later.
He was hired as the school’s head coach in 2013, about six years after Ennis, to whom Jensen attributes most of his coaching philosophies, died.
“I take a lot of it, not only in football, but in life,” Jensen said. “The same thing Sid (Otton) does. What they learn on the football field is one thing, but what they learn on the football field that applies to life, that’s what it’s really about.
“I credit coach Ennis for a lot of that, a lot of my success in life. So that’s basically what I’m trying to do.”
Sounds a lot like Sid Otton, who in his 49-year career as a high school coach has been praised for helping young men develop on and off the football field.
“As a coaching staff and as a team, you look at Tumwater, and you have respect for those guys,” Jensen said. “We look at it as a great challenge, and we’re very honored to go down there and get the chance to play them in a meaningful game.”
“Certainly, it’s two very talented, rich-tradition teams having at it,” Sid Otton said.