Thomas Drayton and his fellow Tumwater defensive teammates hounded Archbishop Murphy quarterback Victor Gabalis the entire game, registering a handful of sacks and plenty of knockdowns on the sophomore signal caller during a physically dominating performance.
For the ninth time in program history, and the first under head coach Bill Beattie, the Tumwater Thunderbirds are going to play for a state football championship.
Behind a stingy defense, which held a high-powered Wildcats’ offense out of the endzone, the second-ranked T-Birds punched their ticket to the Class 2A state title game with a 10-6 victory over defending champion Archbishop Murphy in the state semifinals on November 25 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
“Our defense played lights out tonight. Our coaches got them ready and the kids played like gangbusters,” Beattie said. “I am just so excited for our guys and our fans. What an outstanding feeling right now.”
Tumwater (11-2) will play third-ranked Hockinson (13-0) for the state championship at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 2 in the Tacoma Dome.
It marked the third consecutive year the T-Birds and Wildcats met in the state playoffs. Tumwater won their 2015 semifinal match, 24-21, before Archbishop Murphy thumped the T-Birds, 48-10, in last year’s quarterfinals during the team’s impressive march towards the state title.
That loss had been on the minds of this year’s Tumwater team for an entire year.
“This kind of makes up for last year,” said senior Cy Hicks, a two-way linemen for the T-Birds. “Everything we did over the summer, the workouts, everything – we were thinking about that game (against Archbishop Murphy last year). We just came out and executed really well.”
After a scoreless first half, Tumwater took advantage of a Gabalis’ fumble at the Wildcats’ 34, turning it into points after Connor Clark scored on a 5-yard run.
Unable to get anything going offensively, the Wildcats turned to their defense to put some points on the board, getting a 12-yard fumble return from Ben Hines late in the third quarter. A missed PAT, however, continued to give Tumwater the lead at 7-6.
Nathan Seaman, who has been lights out on field goals during the state playoffs, connected on his seventh field goal over the last three games, punching in a 32-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter to push Tumwater’s lead to 10-6.
Archbishop Murphy was able to threaten with 3 minutes left in the game before turning it over on downs at the T-Birds’ 24. The Wildcats’ last possession came deep in their own territory with less than a minute to play. The offense failed to complete a pass.
The Wildcats, who entered the game averaging nearly 43 points a contest, could do nothing offensively against the stout T-Birds’ defense, finishing with just 71 total yards of offense, including minus-9 yards rushing.
“This is our goal. This is our dream ever since camp at Eastern Washington this summer,” Hicks said. “I’m excited for the next phase. We still have one more game and that’s what we’re going to preach all week. We’re going to work hard and have a perfect week of practice then come out and execute.”
Hockinson, champions of the 2A Greater Saint Helens League, knocked off previously undefeated West Valley of Spokane, 53-30, in the other state semifinal matchup.
The Hawks, behind the classification’s leading passer in senior Canon Racanelli, has scored at least 41 or more points in all but one game this year. The game they failed to hit the 40-point mark occurred during their 34-20 quarterfinal win over Liberty, last year’s state runner-up.
Racanelli has thrown for 300 or more yards nine times this year, including in each of the Hawks’ four postseason games with a 389-yard, seven-touchdown performance in a 53-18 first round victory over Pullman.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Racanelli has passed for 3,807 yards and 54 touchdowns this season while leading Hockinson to its first state championship game. Racanelli’s favorite target is his younger brother, Sawyer Racanelli. The sophomore torched West Valley with six catches for 201 yards and two TDs, pushing his gaudy seasonal totals to 79 receptions for 1,666 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Tumwater, which is 8-3 all-time in title games, won its first state football championship in 1987, defeating West Valley of Yakima, 21-14, to win the 3A (then known as AA) championship. Two more 3A crowns followed (1989 and 1990) before the T-Birds moved up a classification and won the 4A title in 1993.
Tumwater added title No. 5 in 2010 with a 34-14 drubbing of Archbishop Murphy.
The T-Birds will look to end a three-game losing streak in state title games. Tumwater lost in the 2A finals in 2012 and 2013 to Lynden, losing 41-7 and 38-28, respectively, and in 2015 to Prosser (22-15).