And then there were three.
After 10 weeks of games, just three Thurston County high school football programs remain in contention for a state championship. Tumwater, Yelm and Rainier each punched their tickets to the state playoffs with victories in the district round of the postseason.
The Thunderbirds, the top-ranked team in the 2A classification, continued their undefeated season with a 66-13 rout of Columbia River to open the playoffs.
The T-Birds (10-0) have simply overwhelmed opponents all season and their district clash with the visiting Chieftains was no different as Tumwater built a commanding 59-0 halftime lead.
Dylan Paine continued his stellar senior season by scoring three times on the ground, while the T-Birds’ defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Columbia River. Turner Allen scored on a 49-yard run and later added a 40-yard pick for a score and sophomore tight end Ryan Otton hauled in a 98-yard TD pass from Cody Whalen to help the T-Birds score 50 or more points for the seventh time this season.
Tumwater enters the round of 16 having outscored its opponents a combined 510-93 with only 4A Bellarmine Prep getting within two touchdowns. The T-Birds knocked off the Lions, 27-14, in week two. Tumwater’s next closest game was a 16-point win on the road against Clackamas of Oregon.
Tumwater also holds a 27-point non-conference win over 3A state playoff participant Yelm and has defeated every 2A program it’s faced this year by 34 or more points.
The T-Birds, who are making their 10th consecutive state playoff appearance, will host 2A South Puget Sound League member Franklin Pierce in the first round on Friday, November 15.
Tumwater has won its last eight first round games, including last year’s 21-14 victory over Prosser. One of those first-round triumphs came against the Cardinals in 2015 when the T-Birds coasted to a 55-14 triumph.
Franklin Pierce brings an 8-2 record into the first-round showdown and defeated Olympic, 31-24, in the district playoffs to advance to state for a fourth time over the last five seasons. The Cardinals lost to Orting (28-27) and Fife (17-14) during the regular season.
A win by Tumwater will advance the T-Birds to the state quarterfinals for a 23rd time in program history, where they will host the winner of the game between No. 9 North Kitsap (8-2) and No. 8 Archbishop Murphy (7-2).
Yelm ended a 31-year state playoff drought last season. The Tornados didn’t have to wait nearly as long for their next appearance as they secured a state berth for a second straight year following a 27-17 win over Edmonds-Woodway in the district playoffs.
Yelm, which was seeded No. 12 in the 3A state tournament, will travel to Lampson Stadium to play No. 5 Kennewick (9-1) in the first round on November 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.
After starting the season 0-2, Yelm has won seven out of its last eight games, with its only setback coming in a 31-28 loss to Peninsula in a game that ultimately determined the 3A South Sound Conference championship.
The Tornados are led by senior quarterback Ben Hoffman, the SSC’s offensive MVP, and Bradley McGannon, the conference’s co-lineman of the year.
In addition to the two player-of-the-year honorees, Yelm also placed five players on the all-conference’s first team with running back Carson Amendt, wide receiver Sylas Franklin, offensive lineman Dylan Jemtegaard, linebacker Eli Osso and defensive back Austin Schaler.
Second-team all-conference recipients for the Tornados included wide receiver Anthony Chipres, offensive lineman Hunter Mohl, linebacker Sean Rohwedder and defensive back George Packard.
Trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter to Edmonds-Woodway, Yelm got a 6-yard touchdown run from Armendt followed by a 44-yard scoring scamper from Hoffman to put away the visiting Warriors and punch their ticket to state for a second straight season.
The Tornados defeated Lakes (15-14) in last year’s 3A first round before losing to Bellevue (37-20) in the quarterfinals. Yelm’s only other state playoff games came in 1987 when they hammered Monroe (62-20) in the first round and lost to eventual state champion Tumwater (25-0) in the quarterfinals.
First-year head coach Andy Bartell has Rainier back in the 2B state tournament for a second straight season after guiding the Mountaineers to a 28-20 win over Coastal Division champion Pe Ell-Willapa Valley in the district playoffs.
Senior Brody Klein, who finished with more than 200 all-purpose yards, scored all four touchdowns for Rainier. Klein scored two short TD runs and pulled down scoring strikes of 31 and 32 yards from quarterback Mikey Green.
Rainier (6-4) was seeded 14th and will travel to No. 3 Kalama (8-2) for the first round.