Week nine of the high school football season is in the books, and the regular season has concluded. Playoffs are up next for several Olympia area teams. Here are five takeaways from this week’s action, looking ahead to the postseason.
CAPITAL, YELM TAKE DIFFERENT ROUTES TO 3A PLAYOFFS
Sometimes it matters more when a team scores its points than how many it tallies.
Timberline High School scored 21 points in an overtime loss to 3A South Sound Conference champion Peninsula in Week 5 and 30 more on Friday night against runner-up Yelm. But, during the season, the Blazers were shut out by Central Kitsap, 5-0, and edged Capital, 7-6.
Those results, combined with the Cougars’ 14-8 win over Central Kitsap last week, earned Capital (3-6 overall) a 3A district playoff game at Prairie next week, while CK (4-4) and Timberline (4-5) will play non-league crossovers during Week 10.
A three-way tie between the teams, all 3-4 in SSC play, was broken by point differential between the three teams, with Capital coming out on top with a + 5 total to beat CK’s -1 and Timberline’s -4.
The meeting with Prairie will be Capital’s first playoff game since a 35-7 loss to Ferndale ended its 2016 season.
Meanwhile, Yelm (6-3), which reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs last season, enters the tournament seeking a return to the downfield passing game that marked its success earlier in the season.
In their 35-30 victory over the Blazers, the Tornados did not complete a single pass but were opportunistic – scoring on a pass interception and immediately following a Blazer fumble. They also turned in a critical fourth-quarter goal-line stand.
A unique feature of Yelm’s offense this season has been a reliance on offensive lineman Bradley McGannon to move to the backfield and pick up tough yardage.
McGannon played a little fullback in middle school. His Yelm High School coach, Jason Ronquillo, fooled around during spring practice with the idea of having the second team All-Area offensive lineman carry the ball on occasion.
But neither foresaw where the Tornados’ “Jumbo” formation was headed.
In a game where Yelm didn’t complete a single pass and was outgained by host Timberline, 442 yards to 217, McGannon’s sure hands and hard-driving legs scored most of the Tornados points.
“I’m definitely OK with it,” McGannon said. “I was hoping to get the rock a little bit this year, but I didn’t think I’d be used as much as I have been or having it be as effective as it has.”
McGannon scored three two-yard touchdowns and a two-point conversion as Yelm solidified its hold on the second seed from the SSC into next week’s playoffs. They’ll host Edmonds-Woodway.
Timberline will travel to Wilson on Week 10 for a non-playoff crossover game.
“We’ve been doing it all season and Bradley’s being doing a good job with it,” said Ronquillo. McGannon has scored seven touchdowns for the season and has never carried for lost yardage. “When you don’t complete one pass, to have our running game do as well as it did paid dividends.”
McGannon’s first score came at the end of a game-opening 10-play, 86-yard drive and gave Yelm a 7-0 lead. Timberline seemed to turn the momentum when Mason Joubert kicked a 36-yard field goal and the Blazers forced the Tornados to punt on their next possession.
But Timberline fumbled the punt back to Yelm and, on the very next play, Carson Amendt burst up the middle for a 36-yard touchdown that put the Tornados up, 14-3, after a quarter. Amendt led Yelm in rushing with 26 carries for 96 yards.
“Carson was a workhorse for us,” Ronquillo said.
The Blazers rallied, though, to take the lead on a lineman rush of their own, sending Will Lafaele into the end zone from two yards out, then connecting on a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adam Dafoe to Keola Allison.
Dafoe would finish with 14-of-17 for 181 yards and made good decisions under pressure, pulling the ball down and running for 63 total yards. But his one mistake proved costly.
In the final minute before halftime, Timberline tried to add to its lead and instead went into the locker room trailing, 21-17, when Dafoe’s downfield pass was picked off by Yelm defensive back Eli Osso and returned 80 yards for a touchdown.
“I was sitting in my zone and I watched the quarterback turn,” said Osso. “He looked right at the receiver who was a few yards ahead of me. When he threw it, I had time to break on the ball.”
The Blazers weren’t done, taking the lead a final time, 24-21, when Jaden Gorman, who would carry 28 times for 180 yards, went into the end zone from six yards out.
Yelm countered with McGannon’s second touchdown and a dramatic defensive stand. Down 27-24 early in the fourth quarter, the Blazers gained a first-and-goal at the Tornados’ six-yard line. Three attempts by Gorman couldn’t get the ball in, so Timberline tried another direct snap to Lafaele, who was stopped a foot short of a score.
In other 3A SSC games involving local teams, Capital lost at home to Peninsula in a Thursday game, 49-7, and, as it did a year ago, Shelton got its first victory of the season over North Thurston, this time 24-20 at home as Gavin Gould rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
In 4A South Puget Sound action, Olympia improved to 4-5 with a 7-6 home win over Curtis.
HAWKS SEASON-LONG RALLY CONTINUES WITH WIN TO REACH 2A PLAYOFFS
River Ridge had ample reason to lose its 2A South Puget Sound League playoff game against visiting Highline at South Sound Stadium. The Hawks brought a 3-5 record into a game with a team that went undefeated in the SPSL’s Sound Division and had scored 119 points in its last two games.
The Hawks’ potent offensive discovery, junior running back Darion Brown, was sitting on the cusp of a 1,000-yard season but also was sitting out the game with a concussion. One of his backups, Darius Wilson, was sick. Fullback Max Eder’s aching shoulder made him an emergency player only.
There were moments, particularly in the second half, when River Ridge shot itself in the foot, giving the Pirates a chance to get back into the game. But, relying on the players they assumed they’d be relying upon when the season started, the Hawks ran away from Highline, 47-27, to earn a district playoff berth.
As the SPSL’s fourth seed, River Ridge will travel to Clallam County next week to face Sequim on an as-yet-undetermined playing surface. WIAA rules demand an artificial turf field for post-season games and Sequim’s home field is natural grass.
Friday night, simply getting to the playoffs at the end of a season which began 1-3 was the goal.
With Brown out, senior Michael Paje, who began the season as the Hawks featured running back, returned to the role with a vengeance, carrying 36 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
“Michael was a great teammate when Darion was getting the ball most of the time. He was on scout team, did everything right,” River Ridge coach Steve Schultz said. “I’m happy for him.”
Paje couldn’t quite believe the way the South Sound Stadium part of his career ended.
“I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life,” he said after Senior Night ceremonies that included his twin sister Keiloni, a Hawks cheerleader. “I appreciate my teammates. Our o-line was blocking crazy, I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
The passing combination of quarterback Jevon Brown and wide receiver Dontae Owens was deadly when River Ridge needed it to be, connecting for the Hawks only two pass completions of the night, both for long touchdowns.
Despite seeing his team pile up 343 yards of total offense, Schultz wasn’t entirely smitten with his team’s performance.
“It feels good to reach the playoffs but I’m a little concerned,” he said. “I don’t think we can win next week if we make the kind of mistakes we did tonight. We got some foolish penalties. We’ve got to play with more focus. I can think of four plays we had only 10 guys on the field.”
T-BIRDS, BEARCATS IN, BLACK HILLS AND CENTRALIA HEAD TO KANSAS
To no one’s surprise, Tumwater completed a perfect regular season with its ninth consecutive win, a 62-6 road rout of Centralia.
Two T-Bird running backs, Dylan Paine with 121 and Jaylen Clay with 102, broke the triple-digit mark in rushing. Three others, Jack Jones, Turner Allen and Hunter Baker joined them in scoring at least one touchdown rushing. Jones, and fellow running back Tyler Woods, also scored defensively off Tigers’ turnovers.
Meanwhile, W.F. West finished off its pursuit of the 2A Evergreen Conference’s second seed into the District 4 playoffs with a 56-28 victory at Aberdeen.
Senior quarterback Josiah Johnson, concussed against Tumwater and forced to miss the Bearcats Swamp Cup win over Centralia last week, returned in a big way. He passed for 286 yards and four touchdowns, all to Max Taylor, and rushed for 102 more.
Luke Wichert ran for two W.F. West touchdowns, Leandre Gaines took a kickoff to the house and Taylor tallied a fifth touchdown on a pick-six.
The Bearcats (8-1) host Washougal (4-4) in their district playoff game next Friday. Tumwater (9-0) will host Columbia River (3-5).
Meanwhile, Payton Hoyt, Julian Kennedy and Zach Loveless each scored two rushing touchdowns as Black Hills beat Rochester, 57-19, to join Centralia and Aberdeen in an unresolvable three-way tie at 2-3 for the league’s final two playoff spots. Centralia beat Black Hills, which beat Aberdeen, which beat Centralia.
Centralia will, therefore, host a “Kansas Tiebreaker” between the three teams at Tiger Stadium on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The top two teams in the round-robin, overtime-format competition will move on to districts.
ELMA HEADS TO 1A PLAYOFFS DESPITE BIG LOSS TO MONTE
Elma came out on the short end of the East County Civil War with seventh-ranked Montesano, 49-7, but will move on to a district playoff game.
The Eagles scored only on a 58-yard second-quarter touchdown dash by running back Isaiah O’Farrill, who finished with 128 yards on 18 carries.
They’ll travel to undefeated and sixth-ranked LaCenter on Friday.
In other games involving local small schools, Tenino fell to 2A Kingston at home, 20-13, Rainier was downed by No. 2 2B power Napavine, 51-6 and Northwest Christian played its season finale at home Saturday against North Beach.
TIMBERLINE, OTHERS HOPE TO CONTINUE REBUILDS DURING WEEK 10
Missing out on the playoffs by the vagaries of a point differential tie-breaker had to hurt Timberline, which lost to the top two teams in the 3A South Sound Conference by a total of eight points.
The Blazers had won three straight heading into Friday night’s 35-30 loss to Yelm.
“That was a great battle. That’s the best our kids have played,” said Timberline coach Nick Mullen afterward. “Offensively, our team always steps up in the big games.”
Timberline’s season has been the definition of a rebuild. Losing the All-Area player of the year, quarterback Hunter Campau, and two All-Area linebackers in Jamin Fa’alago and Justin Kuhn to graduation left the cupboard a bit bare.
The season began with a devastating 55-0 loss to Tumwater in which the Blazers top returning running backs were hurt and three quarterbacks struggled to lead the offense. Debacles like a 5-0 loss to a Central Kitsap team also rebuilding after the departure of generational running back Alex Refilong followed.
But as the season developed, so did Timberline’s players. Junior Adam Dafoe grew into the starting quarterback job, Jaden Gorman became a workhorse running back and the Blazers put together a three-game winning streak, sandwiched by those close losses to the top 3A SSC teams.
After the loss to Yelm, Mullen didn’t hesitate to schedule a Week 10 crossover game with Wilson to add repetitions to his team’s growth. At least three other local teams will do the same.
North Thurston will play at Mount Tahoma next week and Shelton travels to Stadium, choosing to add experience overthrowing in the towel after losing seasons. Tenino has scheduled a home game against an as-yet-to-be-named opponent.