Five high school football games to watch in the opening round of the state playoffs in Thurston County and beyond.
Note: Ranking numbers beginning this week are seeds as assigned by the WIAA state playoffs seeding committees.
3A STATE PLAYOFFS
NO. 12 YELM TORNADOS (7-3) VS. NO. 5 LAKES LANCERS (8-2)
7 p.m. Friday, Harry E. Lang Stadium, Lakewood
About the Tornados: The Tornados are back in the Class 3A state tournament for their first appearance in 31 years after a whirlwind 24-21 win over Bishop Blanchet in a district road playoff game. In that game, familiar faces senior quarterback Kyle Robinson and senior wide receiver Kodee Gifford were the catalysts to victory. Robinson finished 10 of 15 passing for 251 yards and one touchdown, also adding a score on the ground. Gifford had a productive game as well with four receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown — which came right before halftime, ultimately shifting the tide of the game. The Tornados, which finished in third place in the 3A SSC, are the league’s top scoring team with 320 points (32 per game). On defense, the Tornados have allowed 209 points. Robinson is the 3A SSC’s top passer (119 of 213 for 1,976 yards with 16 TDs and eight INTs). That’s mainly due to the Tornados boasting the 3A SSC’s top two wide receivers with Gifford (50 receptions, 1,006 yards and 11 TDs) and fellow senior Austen Osso (47 receptions, 822 yards and five TDs).
About the Lancers: After a year missing the state playoffs, the Lancers are back. This current version of the Lancers is a far cry from the Weeks 1 and 2 version. After starting off 0-2 and scoring a total of 32 points, the Lancers rattled off eight wins in a row behind an offense that averages 37.8 points per game. The Lancers, which finished in first place in the 3A PCL after an undefeated league season, dismantled Roosevelt 55-15 last week in a district home playoff game. Senior quarterback Liam Bladow tossed five touchdowns for over 230 passing yards in that game to power the Lancers to victory. The core of the offense for the Lancers centers around Bladow, senior running backs Khalil Lewis and Camyron Gaulke and sophomore wide receiver Philip Riley. Bladow has had a good year in the air with 2,237 yards, 23 TDs and nine INTs on 141 of 219 passing. Lewis (115 carries for 847 yards and 11 TDs) and Gaulke (77 carries for 437 yards and 13 TDs) are a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield. The young Riley is producing at wide receiver, hauling in 50 receptions for 883 yards and eight TDs. On the other side of the ball, the Lancers’ sturdy defense only allows 12.5 points per game.
Olympian pick: Lancers, 31-21
NO. 9 MOUNT SPOKANE WILDCATS (8-2) VS. NO. 8 TIMBERLINE BLAZERS (8-2)
7 p.m. Friday, South Sound Stadium, Lacey
About the Wildcats: The Wildcats have returned to the Class 3A state playoffs in back-to-back seasons now, after being absent in 2015 and 2016. Last week was a 21-14 win over Kennewick in an away district playoff game for the Wildcats. In that game, the Wildcats only gave up 106 yards of total offense to Kennewick. Senior quarterback Brady Hill, who is the reigning GSL 3A offensive MVP and is committed to play baseball at Washington State University, is back in action after missing a portion of the season with a broken arm. In the two games since returning, Hill has struggled throwing the ball: 25 of 45 passing for 248 yards with two interceptions. But Hill has made up for it on the ground, rushing for 124 yards and two TDs. The Wildcats are currently down two key players with senior running back Kannon Katzer and senior linebacker Quentin Ayers, who are out with injuries. On the season, the Wildcats average 30.7 points per game. But it is the defense that is particularly strong, giving up just 14 points per game. The Wildcats have held opponents to 16 points or fewer on eight different occasions.
About the Blazers: For the third consecutive season, the Blazers find themselves in the Class 3A state playoffs after a 21-0 win over Oak Harbor in a district home playoff game. Senior quarterback Hunter Campau is a big reason why. Campau, who was unanimously voted the 3A SSC MVP, is one of the region’s top dual threats. He has thrown for 1,191 yards and 14 TDs while also rushing for 1,242 yards and 18 TDs. The Blazers look to improve from last year when they made the quarterfinals, where they lost to Bellevue 42-7. Contributing to the Blazers on offense, which averages 28.1 points per game, are a trio of wide receivers — junior Max Aunese and seniors J.J. Graham and Izaiah Jerenz. Aunese (25 receptions, 269 yards, one TD), Graham (23 receptions, 372 yards, five TDs) and Jerenz (22 receptions, 283 yards, TDs) finished fifth, sixth and seventh in the 3A SSC for receiving, respectively. While Campau is certainly a focal point of the Blazers’ success, the defense cannot not be forgotten. The Blazers gave up the fewest points out of all 3A SSC teams, surrendering just 13.1 points per game.
Olympian pick: Blazers, 24-17
2A STATE PLAYOFFS
NO. 15 BURLINGTON-EDISON TIGERS (4-5) VS. NO. 2 BLACK HILLS WOLVES (10-0)
7 p.m. Friday, Tumwater District Stadium
About the Tigers: The Tigers are here after a 29-12 win over Lakewood in a district home playoff game. It’s been four years since the Tigers, which finished in third place in the NWC 2A, have been in the state playoffs. At quarterback is senior Isaac Lindsay, who has eight TDs, 7 INTs and 992 yards on 93 of 174 passing. It’s been a committee approach at running back, with three different players all playing a role. First and foremost is senior Axel Wilhonen (588 yards and 11 TDs on 98 carries). Wilhonen is not just a threat on the ground — he can catch the ball too, recording 35 catches for 534 yards and 4 TDs. Next in line is junior Dylan Wesen with 442 yards and 2 TDs on 99 carries. Junior Tate Cavanaugh, who has been in and out of the lineup this season, has 305 yards and 2 TDs on 83 carries in five games played. The Tigers average 20.2 points per game on offense while giving up 15.6 points per game. That 4.6 point margin is among the smallest for all teams in the Class 2A bracket.
About the Wolves: It was a bunch of firsts this season for the Wolves. For the first time in program history, the Wolves went undefeated in the regular season and won their first-ever 2A EvCo league championship. That perfect record, combined with a win over cross-town rival and perennial championship contender Tumwater in the annual Pioneer Bowl in Week 8, has led to the Wolves being named the No. 2 seed. That now makes it four consecutive years that the Wolves are playing in the state playoffs. Last week the Wolves breezed past Columbia River in a district home playoff game 45-6. Senior running back Taylor Simmons is definitively the main cog of the Wolves offense with 1,058 yards and 16 TDs on 139 carries. Simmons also has three receiving TDs and one kickoff return to make it 20 total on the season. Senior Ethan Loveless and sophomore Jaden Cote split time at quarterback in the regular season. Loveless threw for 625 yards and seven TDs on 42 of 83 passing. Cote recorded similar stats with 482 yards and seven TDs on 25 of 63 passing. As a team, the Wolves average 41.7 points per game. The play on defense has been a factor as well, with new coordinator J.D. Johnson and his 3-3 scheme. The Wolves allow 14.7 points per game and have forced over 20 turnovers.
Olympian pick: Wolves, 31-14
NO. 11 PROSSER MUSTANGS (7-2) VS. NO. 6 TUMWATER T-BIRDS (9-1)
1 p.m. Saturday, Tumwater District Stadium
About the Mustangs: After claiming the CWAC league championship with a 12-0 win over Ellensburg last week, the Mustangs are back in the state playoffs for the first time since 2015. This game is a rematch of the 2015 State Championship, which the Mustangs edged out the T-Birds 22-15. This year, the Mustangs particularly feature a two-way impact player. Senior running back/linebacker Kord Tuttle was named the CWAC co-offensive MVP while also earning the title of defensive MVP. Tuttle has 803 yards and 10 TDs on 120 carries. Up and down the roster of the Mustangs are all-league players. Tuttle, as well as senior quarterback Will Weinmann, junior wide receiver Will Thompson, junior offensive lineman Benito Bravo and senior offensive lineman Taden Hartley, and junior returner Logan Candanoza were all named to the CWAC first-team offense. Senior defensive lineman Kaden Cooper, senior linebacker Tyler Durbin and senior punter Levi VerMulm made first-team defense. As a team, the Mustangs average 35.8 points per game — that includes an 84-7 beat down of Wapato in Week 8. The Mustangs allow just 11.7 points per game on defense. The Mustangs are without their leading receiver, sophomore Haden Hicks, who broke his back on Oct. 5 against Ellensburg.
About the T-Birds: The T-Birds are no strangers to the state playoffs. For the past nine seasons, they have made it every single year. The T-Birds, which finished in second place in the 2A EvCo, are searching for their first championship since 2010 when they defeated Archbishop Murphy 34-14. Last week, the T-Birds used a strong second half to pull away from Woodland 58-38 in a home district playoff game. At halftime, Woodland was leading 26-21. But 37 combined points in the third and fourth quarters secured the win for the T-Birds. Behind their signature wing-T offense, the T-Birds have racked up 3,661 rushing yards as a team. Senior running back Dylan Loftis is first on the team with 1,187 yards and 18 TDs on 96 carries. It’s a collective effort following Loftis. Junior running back Hunter Baker has 478 yards and four TDs 67 carries. Sophomore running back Turner Allen, fully recovered from an ankle injury now, has 328 yards and six TDs on 33 carries. Senior running back Zane Murphy rounds out the rushing attack with 325 yards and 10 TDs on 57 carries. Of course, the T-Birds are without key junior running back Dylan Paine (775 yards and 18 TDs on 81 carries), who tore his ACL earlier this season. Senior running back Rico Spienger has an increased role since filling in for Paine on the T-Birds’ offense, which averages 42.7 points per game. On defense, the T-Birds allow 11.7 points per game.
Olympian pick: T-Birds, 35-20
1A STATE PLAYOFFS
NO. 13 ELMA EAGLES (8-2) VS. NO. 4 MERIDIAN TROJANS (7-3)
7 p.m. Saturday, Civic Stadium, Bellingham
About the Eagles: For the first time in 13 years, the Eagles are in the state playoffs. The Eagles beat La Center 33-21 last week to wrap up conference play last week, led by senior running back Taitum Brumfield who had 159 yards and three TDs on 29 carries in the win. That’s how it’s been all season for the Eagles — Brumfield charging the way to victory. Brumfield accounts for 43.2 percent of the Eagles’ ground attack, rushing for 1,289 yards and 22 TDs on 205 carries. That’s 6.3 yards per carry, an impressive number considering the volume. Junior quarterback Cody Vollan is making plays both with his arm and legs. Vollan has thrown for 988 yards and 11 touchdowns — with just one INT — on 43 of 87 passing and has rushed for 536 yards and 10 TDs on 97 carries. On the outside at wide receiver, the Eagles feature two main players — senior Carter Jacobson and junior Tysen Richardson. Jacobson leads the team in yards with 335 while Richardson leads the team in TDs with five. The Eagles, which finished in third place in the 1A EvCo, average 37.4 points per game. Flipping it to defense, the Eagles allow a mere 13.2 points per game.
About the Trojans: It’s a familiar spot here in the state playoffs for the Trojans. Since 2000, the Trojans have failed to qualify on only three occasions. In that time span, the Trojans have collected two state championships. Last week, the Trojans easily beat South Whidbey 59-8 in a home district playoff game. Senior quarterback Dawson Logan is the team’s top offensive player. Logan has thrown for 1,470 yards with 13 TDs and 6 INTs on 110 of 216 passing, and also leads the team in rushing with 902 yards and 16 TDs on 137 carries. Second on the team in rushing is senior Cole Roberts, who has 626 yards and 4 TDs on 100 carries. Logan’s top two targets are senior Dylan Hickok (29 receptions for 458 yards and 3 TDs) and junior Kevin Galiano (43 receptions for 536 yards and 5 TDs). The Trojans average 28.3 points on offense. On defense, the Trojans allow 16.4 points per game.
Olympian pick: Trojans, 30-28